updated 4/23/2009 11:59:20 AM ET 2009-04-23T15:59:20

Guest: Eugene Robinson, Howard Fineman, Steve McMahon, Michelle Laxalt, Ron Klein, Rosa DeLauro, Tom Defrank, David Corn

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  The empire strikes back.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Leading off tonight: Clash of civilizations.  Two different views of the universe out there right now.  That‘s what‘s at war in Washington today, the dark view of Dick Cheney that sees no shame in brutal interrogations, indeed refuses to blame America for anything, that against the new view of Barack Obama that America does best in the world when it upholds a moral standard and admits past failings, who believes our government lost its moral bearings in pushing the moral envelope in our treatment of those prisoners—two different views of the universe.

And last night, the old empire struck back as the former vice president, who refuses to leave Washington, took aim at the new value system.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The world outside there, both our friends and our foes, will be quick to take advantage of a situation if they think they‘re dealing with a weak president or one who‘s not going to stand up and aggressively defend America‘s interests.  The United States provides most of the leadership in the world.  We have for a long time.  And I don‘t think we‘ve got much to apologize for.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  So why doesn‘t Dick Cheney listen to his former boss and just keep quiet?  Why is he acting like the Bush administration‘s tail gunner, manning his burp gun with that same nasty look we recall from the war comics?  So far, Democrats are loving it, loving the embittered face of Cheney lingering in the news, manfully handling the attack.  They seem to want Cheney as their adversary.

But do the Republicans want him out there?  Maybe they like his message of Obama weakness.  Newt Gingrich says the president is “Carteresque,” and Mitt Romney claims the president, Barack Obama, is too timid, somehow lacking the passion necessary for the presidency.  What‘s this, the passion of Mitt Romney?  Well, maybe when the president‘s from the other party and has a 60 percent approval rating and your party‘s at 31 percent, you don‘t have many options but to attack and attack and attack and just hope something sticks.

And amid this battle of political universes, here‘s a tableau you don‘t see every day in Washington, a genuine kumbaya moment, three major figures of the Democratic Party, President Obama, Senator Ted Kennedy and former president Bill Clinton all gathered together with Republican Orrin Hatch for the signing of the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act.  The bill triples the size of the country‘s national service programs, which are known as Americorps.  The event was particularly poignant, we think, for the ailing Senator Kennedy, whose late brother, Jack Kennedy, of course, created the Peace Corps in which I was fortunate to serve some 40 years ago.

Plus: Was a member of Congress asked to get lenient treatment for some suspected spies in exchange for help in becoming chairman of the Intelligence Committee?  It involves two former—or actually, two powerful California Democrats right now, Jane Harman and Speaker Nancy Pelosi.  We‘re going to have that hot story in the “Politics Fix.”

And I‘m thrilled tonight to present the HARDBALL Award to a noble and evocative commentator of our times, the great “Washington Post” columnist who just won the Pulitzer Prize.

But we begin with Dick Cheney‘s latest attack on President Obama.  Eugene Robinson is “Washington Post” columnist and MSNBC political analyst, and “Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman is also an MSNBC political analyst.

I want to start with Gene.  Why is the vice president out there working that tail gunner?  Why is he shooting away at the current president with such abandon?

EUGENE ROBINSON, “WASHINGTON POST,” MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  It‘s a good question.  He‘s out there, it seems, every week.  I don‘t think this is any sort of concerted, you know, Republican strategy.  Rather, I think it‘s the vice president trying to justify the things that he and George W.  Bush did while in office and to defend practices, including the interrogations which most of us would consider torture—at least, that‘s what international agreements would call these interrogations—to defend them and make them seem within the bounds of acceptability.

MATTHEWS:  I wonder, Howard, if the Republican Party really wants to be branded right now as the party of tax cuts and torture.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I mean, that‘s what they‘re selling.  I mean, the tax cuts are always happy to be heard about, even if they‘re not possible.  But the torture part, the image of a party that seems to have attached itself to this method, this difficult, hard to justify, sometimes perhaps necessary method of getting to the truth in urgent circumstances—is it what you want to be known for?

HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK,” MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  No.  That‘s the short answer.  Certainly not in those terms.  And I agree with Gene.  I think Dick Cheney—this is a personal crusade in part.  Don‘t forget the United Nations rapporteur on torture and the international treaty and the United States law and increasingly some of the things President Obama himself is saying, and Eric Holder, the attorney general, are at least implying the possibility that Dick Cheney himself, as vice president, has some kind of legal culpability here...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

FINEMAN:  ... in national/international terms.  So Cheney‘s trying to defend himself.

As far as the politics of it, Chris, I think for some young people, for some post-9/11 kids who—you know, who‘ve grown up with Jack Bauer and in the days after 9/11, it may be a little bit of a closer question than you may think on the question of torture.  But overall, the idea that you‘re going to defend these methods is a political loser for the Republican Party.

MATTHEWS:  I just wonder where you draw the line because if waterboarding is OK, why not put the guy‘s head in a vise, like they did in “Casino”?  Why not just go all the way?  If you really say the end justifies the means, what means aren‘t justified?  That‘s the problem with this argument.

Let‘s go right now...

ROBINSON:  That‘s absolutely right.

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s the vice president.  He may have been caught in a vise here himself.  Here he is, saying that he tried to get out more information.  He‘s ordered for a declassification of the benefits of torture.  But here he is making the claim last night on “Hannity.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHENEY:  One of the things that I find a little bit disturbing about this recent disclosure is they put out the legal memos, the memos that the CIA got from the Office of Legal Counsel, but they didn‘t put out the memos that show the success of the effort.  And there are reports that show specifically what we gained as a result of this activity.  They have not been declassified.

I have now formally asked the CIA to take steps to declassify those memos so we can lay them out there and the American people have a chance to see what we obtained and what we learned and how good the intelligence was, as well as to see this debate over the legal opinions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, Andrea Mitchell of NBC has reported that he has not made that request, not formally at least.  Maybe he‘s thinking of doing it.  Gene, why would he say he‘s made the request to declassify these documents which show the benefit of torture or the benefit of rough treatment of prisoners if he hasn‘t done it?

ROBINSON:  Right.  I think he would like to be able to say, you know, We waterboarded Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, and he told us, you know, that some of the—here are some of the things he told us, and these were legitimate threats to our security.

The thing is, of course, you can‘t prove the negative.  You cannot prove that that information could not have been obtained through other interrogation methods short of torture that interrogation experts have told me they believe are more effective.  And so you can‘t actually prove that you had to torture somebody to get the information.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... simpler question, Howard.  If he didn‘t ask the CIA, the intelligence officials...

FINEMAN:  Right.  Exactly.

MATTHEWS:  ... to release this information and he claims he did, he‘s caught in a problem here of credibility.

FINEMAN:  Look, he doesn‘t have a whole lot of creditability, Chris, given all the videotape that there is of the testimony he gave the American public about what we were going to find, about what we knew, about what the rationale for the war in Iraq was, about a host of different things.  Yes, it‘s a dangerous world, Mr. Former Vice President, but you‘ve got to prove it in specific ways.

I‘m wondering—I have to wonder what‘s actually in whatever CIA memos exist.  If he could have gotten a hold of them to make his case, I think he would have started lickety-split to do it.  And the fact that he‘s only now saying he‘s going to do it makes me have to question, given his track record, what really we did gain from those things.  And I think it‘s a very open question, and his own history doesn‘t help his credibility.

MATTHEWS:  Right.  And he used that same avuncular tone in selling the war in Iraq with bogus evidence.

Let‘s look at Barack Obama today, our president.  Here he is on this very subject of whether we should go back and do some kind of truth and reconciliation, some kind of prosecution of people who wrote the wrong memos on torture.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  For those who carried out some of these operations within the four corners of legal opinions or guidance that had been provided from the White House, I do not think it‘s appropriate for them to be prosecuted.  With respect to those who formulated those legal decisions, I would say that that is going to be more of a decision for the attorney general within the parameters of various laws, and I don‘t want to prejudge that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Gene, is the president hearing the netroots, the people on the left, to use a general term, who really want to see some repayment for this behavior?

ROBINSON:  I think he is hearing them.  I‘m certainly hearing from them.  And the idea that the people who carried out the interrogations will not be prosecuted did not go over well in that sector.  And so I think the president is holding open the possibility that those who gave the orders perhaps should—you know, or could face some exposure.  And frankly, you know, I thought those memos were actually kind of chilling.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

ROBINSON:  Kind of covering this brutality or hiding it underneath some sort of bureaucratic and legal sheen is kind of chilling, in a way.

FINEMAN:  Unless you‘re going to—Chris, though, unless you‘re going to argue—and it‘s possible that the administration may decide to—that people sitting in a legal office drafting legal opinions about something ultimately had the intent to see that people were tortured.  Then you‘re opening a can of worms here in terms of examining past legal decisions of an office within the Justice Department that I‘m not sure Eric Holder, in the end, is really going to do because once you politicize that, in whatever good name and for whatever moral reason, then you‘re going into a sanctum that really since the days of Watergate—and maybe that‘s the analogy here—since the days of Watergate, we haven‘t trespassed over that line.

And by the way, Obama, if you listen carefully to what he said, Chris, he said that is going to be more of a decision for the attorney general.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

FINEMAN:  He didn‘t say it‘s going to be exclusively the decision of the attorney general.  Holder may make—they‘ll find some way to throw somebody to the wolves here, but it‘s going to be very carefully done if Obama has his way.

MATTHEWS:  Well, here‘s Rahm Emanuel over the weekend, giving a totally different message.  Now, the president‘s message today was, If we can do this in a bipartisanship way, we can go back and catch the bad guys.  But obviously, that‘s not going to happen.  Republicans aren‘t going to go along with chasing the bad guys in the Bush administration, if there were any.

Here‘s Rahm Emanuel upholding the normal rule, which you mentioned a moment ago, which is, Don‘t go back into previous administrations and look for dirt.  Move on.  Here‘s Rahm with the traditional argument here, I believe.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAHM EMANUEL, CHIEF OF STAFF TO PRESIDENT OBAMA:  He believes that people in good faith were operating with the guidance they were provided.  They shouldn‘t be prosecuted...

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS:  What about those who devised the policy?

EMANUEL:  Yes, but those who devised policy, he believes that they were—should not be prosecuted, either.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s move on now to the broader charge.  I opened the show by saying there‘s a battle of the universe going on here, Gene and Howard, and it‘s a battle of universes.  The one universe is, Let‘s be the good guys in the world and the world will rally to us.  The other side, the darker side, if you will, and Cheney calls it that, says, No, let‘s be the toughest guys on the block and people will respect us.

Here‘s Cheney reminding us of the dark side, saying that our new president, Barack Obama, is just too darn weak.  Here he is, talking about the president‘s behavior this past weekend with Venezuela‘s Chavez.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHENEY:  Nobody would ever accuse Hugo Chavez of being somebody committed to democracy.  The—basically, the position we took in the Bush administration was to ignore him.  I think that was the right thing to do.

I think it‘s important.  You‘ve got millions of people all across South America who are watching how we respond.  If they see an American president sort of cozying up to somebody like Daniel Ortega or Chavez, I think it‘s not helpful.  I think it sort of sets the wrong standard.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  That just seems to me a direct shot.  We had Tony Blankley on last night, Gene and Howard, saying this isn‘t personal.  That sounds like it‘s getting personal, saying that Barack Obama is weak as our leader.  What do you make of it, Gene?

ROBINSON:  Well, that was a personal shot, number one.  There was no cozying up to Daniel Ortega.  And number two, what happened with Chavez was really—and I talked about it in today‘s column.  Actually, the president did allow himself to get caught in a still photograph that made it look like a much jollier encounter than it actually was.  And I think, you know, that‘s the sort of thing a president has to be on guard for.

But in general, I think Cheney would disapprove of the very notion that an American president would go to a summit on the Americas and deal with fellow presidents as peers.  You know, obviously, the United States is the preeminent power, the preeminent nation in this hemisphere, and in any hemisphere, but that you don‘t have to go in, you know, waving the big stick and ordering everybody around.  And I think Cheney would just reject that basic idea.  That‘s the way Barack Obama intends to proceed, and I think it‘s—I personally think it‘s the right way to go.

FINEMAN:  Chris...

MATTHEWS:  He doesn‘t mind being King Gringo as long as we‘re the boss.  He doesn‘t mind what they call us, as long as we‘ve got the stick.

ROBINSON:  Exactly.

MATTHEWS:  Howard?

FINEMAN:  Well, as usual, Gene is being so self-effacing, he‘s not reminding everybody out there that he actually covered Latin America...

MATTHEWS:  Rio.

FINEMAN:  ... on his way to a Pulitzer Prize and—which we all are very proud of him for.  But the point is that strength is defined in different ways.  Stupidity is not strength.  And there were—you know, you can give George Bush credit, if you want, for saying that there is such a thing as evil in the world, OK?  And Dick Cheney said the same thing.  But what they didn‘t understand and still don‘t is that that‘s the beginning of the discussion, not the end of the discussion.

If there is evil in the world, you have to be shrewd about dealing with it.  And not—making enemies unnecessarily is not strong or smart.  And what Obama is trying to do is to try to see what‘s out there on the table.  I mean, Obama is examining the poker table now for the first time.  He‘s sitting down at it.  He‘s seeing who has what cards.  I guarantee he‘s going to be a tough player, but he‘s not going to try to turn the table upside down before he starts.

MATTHEWS:  Well, it still looks to me like an amazing episode in American history coming up, which is that Dick Cheney is not leaving town.  He‘s sticking around in Washington as sort of the Perle Mesta of the Potomac.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  He‘s going to be around a long time.  He‘s going to be holding soirees and...

FINEMAN:  Nobody knows who Perle Mesta is, Chris.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Well, she was the doyenne of the Democratic Party about 40 years ago, and this guy‘s the new doyenne, lots of late night discussions over whatever, cognac, discussing the weakness of Barack Obama.  I can‘t imagine what those meetings are like.  Anyway, I don‘t expect to be invited to any of them.

Eugene Robinson, congratulations on winning the Pulitzer Prize.

ROBINSON:  Thank you, sir.

MATTHEWS:  More on you, sir, in a couple minutes.  And thank you, Howard, as always.

Coming up: Can the Republicans score political points against President Obama by painting—well, by painting him as weak and as an apologist, someone who‘s constantly saying sorry for our misdeeds?  Well, sometimes we have made mistakes.  Let‘s get them behind us.  We‘ll ask strategists from both sides to debate this latest line of attack, which is “Obama‘s weak.”  We get it.  That‘s coming up next.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  A barrage of Republican criticism of Obama appears to have honed in on a perceived Achilles heel that he‘s, quote, “weak,” close quote.  As you heard earlier, Dick Cheney has said that, in a way seeming to demand an apology from him because he‘s out there apologizing around the world.  The thought is weak here.  Newt Gingrich, speaking at the Republican National Lawyers Association conference, described Obama as stunningly “Carteresque,” another attack on his strength.  And former presidential candidate Mitt Romney writes in “The National Review” on line, quote, “The leader of the free world has been a timid advocate of freedom, at best, and bold action to blunt the advances of tyrants has been wholly lacking.”

Well, will this strategy work?  Do these criticisms have strength? 

Steve McMahon is a Democratic strategist, and Michelle Laxalt is a Republican strategist. 

Do you like this argument, Michelle, that Barack Obama is weak?  I mean, after all, he went three for three against the pirates, better shots on his side than Cheney ever was.  Is it—is it fair to call a guy weak before he‘s seen action, really? 

MICHELLE LAXALT, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  I think that it‘s—it‘s fair to call it as we see it.  And it would appear to many, not just Republicans, but many Democrats here on Capitol Hill, that he is being tested by our enemies, and he is being tested deliberately and early, just as his vice president had suggested might happen during the course of the campaign.  And...

MATTHEWS:  How so?  Describe the testing. 

LAXALT:  Well, let‘s start with, don‘t—don‘t fire that weapon, and they did, and there were no consequences. 

Let‘s talk about going to the U.N. and looking for sanctions, and the U.N. basically looked at their belly buttons and said, we will talk to you later.  Some might argue that kissing up to some of these tinhorn dictators who hate our guts is not very wise at this early in a presidency.  You never apologize for your own country, unless somebody has prearranged that they‘re going to—that your—your platform mate is going to reciprocate the gesture.  And that hasn‘t happened. 

So, it‘s almost as if he‘s campaigning for president of the world, and looking for their support.  And I think it‘s a—a high-wire act that he needs to reconfigure real fast, especially vis-a-vis Israel. 

MATTHEWS:  Vis-a-vis Israel?  How does Israel work out here?  How did

how did that get involved? 

LAXALT:  Well, when—when—when Ahmadinejad is making cracks about the Holocaust being a pretext for the U.S. to put together the state of Israel, and comments are made, you know, in—particularly in the area of foreign relations and international—international relations, every single word is so critically important.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

LAXALT:  And sends a message to different people.  And there are some who are supporters of Israel, as our closest ally, who are doubting whether or not his support is as strong as past presidents has been, as a result of the comments he‘s made on this most recent stop. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Steve, you have got a lot to deal with there. 

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  I do. 

I think—I think we have tried a bellicose and belligerent and arrogant foreign policy for eight years now.  And that‘s what Barack Obama inherited.  And I think that, to go to the world and say, things are going to be different, Americans voted for change, we‘re not just going to lecture you, we‘re going to listen to you, we‘re going to work with you as partners around the world, I actually think that most places around the world, that is welcome news. 

I don‘t think that the strategy of starting wars because you don‘t agree with what other countries are doing or what other dictators might be doing in their own countries is a strategy that‘s been very effective. 

And I think, at the crux of the criticism, what you have here is Dick Cheney somehow disappointed that we‘re 91 days into an administration, and the president hasn‘t bombed anybody yet.  Well, that‘s not going to happen anymore, unless it‘s absolutely necessary, unless there is an imminent threat.

And it is a new day.  And I think Barack Obama is trying to demonstrate that to the world and to the world leaders at these summit—summits that he attends.  And I, frankly, am very proud as an American of the job he‘s doing in projecting a new image of America to the world. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, there‘s a difference in face, clearly, with the fact that the president went to a Summit of the Americas and acted like one of the members of the member states, in other words, didn‘t act like the stud duck there, but acted like one of the members of the—you don‘t like that, do you, Michelle, just acting like one of the many countries at that summit, that we should have acted like the boss, and, if we didn‘t like something that was said there, we should have cut it off.

Or what—what should he have done, cut it off, or what?

LAXALT:  No.

I don‘t—I—look, I agree with—with the suggestion that it was a nice breath of fresh air, that he didn‘t go in with basically shifting his baton around, like we‘re the big, you know, world bully.  But, by the same token, when, for instance, the Mexicans suggest that the hooligans and the criminal behavior that‘s taking place on American soil is a direct result of our guns being provided to Mexican citizens, and not objecting to that, I think is almost surreal, Chris. 

I think it‘s very fine that he says it‘s a new game.  And I want to cooperate.  And I don‘t want to boss anyone around.  But, by the same token, when you are in a family feud, and you step outside that family, and somebody picks on your sister...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

LAXALT:  ... who you just pinched, you better stand up for them.  And I‘m not...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So, you like—you like the Bush—you like the Bush approach better?  You think Bush did a good job of leading us in the world?  He gained respect for America. 

LAXALT:  I think President Reagan did a very—I think President Reagan did a very good job in the world.

MATTHEWS:  No, President Bush. 

LAXALT:  And what we‘re seeing with President Obama...

MATTHEWS:  No, the last eight years of Bush. 

LAXALT:  ... is that he‘s a little bit more like President Carter was. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

Well, let me go back to a more difficult challenge.  Are you proud of the way we have led the world the last eight years, Michelle Laxalt?  Do you think we have a good job...

LAXALT:  We haven‘t led the world. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think our president has been a good leader in the world; he‘s commanded respect for America‘s values and our position in the world? 

LAXALT:  I think this president is—I think President Obama is a well-intentioned president of whom we can be proud and of whom we should all support, as Americans.  He‘s got a fine mind.  I think he has a good heart, a good soul, and he‘s put together an extraordinary Cabinet.

And I think that this...

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

LAXALT:  ... is an area that might be a little bit of an Achilles‘ heel for him.  And we all learn. 

MATTHEWS:  Michelle, you‘re great at stretching, but you have avoided my question.  Do you think Bush was a good leader for America and the world? 

LAXALT:  I think the ultimate answer to that, Chris, is, were we hit again after September 11? 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

LAXALT:  And the answer to that is no. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

LAXALT:  So, the answer is yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Steve McMahon, were you—do we have a better leader now than we had before, for the last eight years? 

MCMAHON:  Well, I—I think so, and I think time will tell.

And I think, certainly, if you ask people around the world, they would definitely think so.  I think the other thing that‘s interesting here, Chris, Michelle mentioned a family feud.  And it used to be, you know, 25 years or so ago, which it seems hard to believe, when I was working in the Senate, there was a—there was a tradition in the United States that leaders—that the United States spoke with one voice when it came to foreign policy.

And you didn‘t see a president going overseas being carped at by the opposition party, being criticized by former vice presidents, and—and being basically ridiculed by the Republican right, or the Democratic left in the case of President Reagan.

And I think it‘s an interesting slide in our politics. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

MCMAHON:  And it‘s, frankly, a discouraging one, because the United States used to speak with one voice overseas.  The “Family Feud” concept is in effect.  We speak with one voice, and the Republicans should stand behind our one president. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, unfortunately, there‘s only one person in the country willing to defend George Bush.  And that seems to be Dick Cheney, and he‘s doing it. 

Thank you, Steve McMahon.

Thank you, Michelle Laxalt. 

Up next, it‘s time for another HARDBALL Award, and a big one tonight.  This one goes to someone near and dear to this program, whose all-around excellence has not gone unnoticed, as they used to say in Catholic school. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL. 

Well, it‘s great when nice things happen to nice people, even better when something great comes to someone who is already great. 

Eugene Robinson, our colleague who was just on, has just been awarded the Pulitzer Prize.  Here was Gene, by the way, last November, on election night, offering the brand and quality of commentary for which he has just won this historic career honor. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, NOVEMBER 4, 2008)

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I think the world will never forget this moment, because it is a—a moment of demarcation.  There was a before and an after. 

We don‘t know what happens in the after...

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST, “COUNTDOWN”:  No.

ROBINSON:  ... but we know it‘s different from the before.

And it feels—it feels different, to me, to be an American tonight. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, because this is television, and we don‘t have much time, let me share a glimpse, at least, of Eugene Robinson‘s written word, as he nobly chronicled 2008 for “The Washington Post,” as he evoked better than anyone else the truly wondrous venture we Americans were about. 

This is what he wrote right after Obama won the Iowa caucuses: “The Iowa caucuses showed us the America we would like to believe in.  So, what if the America we saw Thursday night is the America we would like to imagine, rather than the one we inhabit?  Isn‘t an America that at least aspires to transcend racism better than one that doesn‘t?”

Here is what he wrote in February, with the race between Obama and Hillary Clinton still at full speed—quote—“Whether Obama wins or loses, his campaign has made—had made it impossible for anyone so inclined to cling to certain racist assumptions.  The Obama campaign hasn‘t had success just on black America‘s terms, but on white America‘s terms.  He wouldn‘t be where he is without a campaign organization that is second to none.  He‘s the one with more money and more offices.  He‘s the one who made the better decisions about where to spend resources.”

Then, in November, when the general election was decided, when the unimaginable had come to be, here is Gene Robinson: “I found myself getting misty-eyed again when Barack and Michelle walked off the stage together, clinging to one another, partners about to embark on an adventure full of possibility and peril that will change this nation forever.”

So, let us here add to the Pulitzer Prize a HARDBALL Award, as well, to Eugene Robinson, a man who knows, loves, and describes his country well. 

To read the 10 columns that won Eugene Robinson the Pulitzer Pride for commentary, go to TheWashingtonPost.com. 

Well, up next:  Bill Clinton was made after Ted Kennedy endorsed Barack Obama last spring, over his wife, Hillary, but he is all smiles today, as the former president, the current president, and the lion of the Senate, Ted Kennedy, met to promote national service.  Can President Obama get young people to serve, just like Kennedy did?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERTHA COOMBS, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Bertha Coombs with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

A positive reversal of fortune on Wall Street.  After losing 290 points yesterday, the Dow Jones industrials bounce back, up 127 points today, to 7969, the S&P tacking on 18 points to 850, and the Nasdaq jumping nearly 36 points, now standing at 1644. 

The financial sector led the way, after comments from Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.  He told a congressional panel that the banking industry bailout is showing signs of progress and that the majority of banks are well-capitalized. 

Online giant Yahoo! says it‘s going to lay off another 600 to 700 workers—that word coming as Yahoo! today reported a 78 percent drop in profits. 

And more help for Chrysler—the White House is making $500 million available this month for the automaker, as it tries to negotiate a merger with Fiat.  The White House is helping to broker that deal. 

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

MATTHEWS:  Well, it turns out the former vice president, Dick Cheney, did make a request to declassify those documents with regard to the benefits of torture, if you will, to the National Archives. 

So, the senior intelligence officer who said no such formal request had been made didn‘t know about what was going on at the Archives—no surprise there in our giant bureaucracy. 

Anyway, welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Washington played host today to a truly bipartisanship moment, a real kumbaya moment, today, when three giants of the Democratic Party, Obama, Bill Clinton, and Ted Kennedy, all came together with some top Republicans, like Orrin Hatch of Utah, for the signing of the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, which is going to expand volunteer programs in our country. 

So, can President Obama inspire people to serve the way Jack Kennedy did back in those amazing ‘60s?  And—and will this act be a stepping-stone for future such events? 

Democratic Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut and Democratic Congressman Ron Klein of Florida attended today‘s ceremony. 

Congresswoman DeLauro, thank you very much for joining us.

Let‘s look, first of all, at—at the president today. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  There are very few people who have touched the life of this nation in the same breadth and the same order of magnitude than the person who is seated right behind me.

And, so, this is just an extraordinary day for him.  And I am truly grateful and honored to call him a friend, a colleague, and one of the finest leaders we have ever had, Ted Kennedy. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Congresswoman DeLauro, we‘re backed up on the show, but I wanted to get to this topic.  I served in the Peace Corps.  I benefited from it so much, especially.  And you know from Chris Dodd, as well, served over there. 

REP. ROSA DELAURO (D), CONNECTICUT:  Right.  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s an amazing experience. 

How is this going to set the tone?  Do you think you can create the imagery and the excitement of the early ‘60s in the—in the year 2009?  Can Barack Obama do that? 

DELAURO:  Oh, I do.  I—I believe it.  I believe that that was one of the reasons why particularly young people got engaged with Barack Obama early on. 

It was a—and—you know, Chris, you—you talked about serving in this Peace Corps.  And I served with Senator Dodd, as you know.  And he served in the Peace Corps.  And he defines that as, you know, probably the most remarkable experience of—of his life. 

And it‘s giving back.  It‘s giving service.  And I—and I think that‘s what so inspired me—and probably you—with Jack Kennedy.  And we see a new generation of young people who are inspired to get involved, because it‘s about not individualism.  It‘s about every man and woman not on their own, but their notion of a shared responsibility to engage in their community and to give something back.  You see that always in this country, particularly at the crises that we have, whether it was 9/11 or Katrina, where people are desperate to be engaged and involved. 

I think this piece of legislation—it was a poignant ceremony, really very poignant, because of Edward Kennedy and the Kennedy family and their service.  But it‘s renewed in that bipartisanship spirit that was on display there today. 

And, again, I go back to Senator Dodd. who worked on this legislation.  I had the honor of seeing, you know, four pieces of legislation that I have been engaged in be part of this effort to say to young people, to say to middle school, high school kids, to seniors, to folks, be engaged, be involved, and it‘s important.  You can change this country.  That‘s what the president said today.  And I think that that is the message, and I think people get it.  They‘re anxious to do this. 

MATTHEWS:  Rosie, you have the enthusiasm.  You‘re the best.  Let me ask Congressman Klein, you know, Republicans dump all over this kumbaya stuff.  They think all this we‘re all in this together is nonsense.  They are a much more hard noes.  Are in a period that‘s more hard-nosed or are we back to that spirit of anybody‘s possible? 

KLEIN:  I think this is one of those issues that all Americans, Democrat and Republican, get it.  National service, volunteerism is a fundamental value in the United States.  I personally feel very strongly that whether a young person chooses to serve in the military, and put the uniform on, protect our country, or they go teach America or the Peace Corps or any number of these other programs, I think it‘s a very exciting opportunity to give back, and it becomes a lifetime of understanding what your vote means and volunteering in the community and giving back.

But I also want to mention this bill has another component.  It‘s not just people in middle school and high school and college age.  We have also added some language here which allows veterans, adults to participate and help file claims for disability, figure out what kind of educational benefits.  This help benefit teachers and veterans and everyone.  It‘s a very exciting time and I think everyone gets it.

DELAURO:  I think it‘s right.  Seniors can participate.  People 55 years and older are—can be engaged in this effort.  So it‘s across the board. 

I would say to you, Chris, I think Ron hit it right that this is not about partisanship.  This is about evoking and really responding to a need that this country and the people of this nation have, that they want to give back.  They want to do something.  And I think it was said, you know, that John Kennedy asked people to serve.  Barack Obama is asking people to be engaged—

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I think one of the things missing in the last eight years, especially after 9/11, was the failure of our recent president, who has many gifts, the failure to ask people to do something. 

KLEIN:  That‘s right. 

DELAURO:  That‘s right. 

MATTHEWS:  I think people want to be asked.  They love being asked.

KLEIN:  People talked about this.  They said, it‘s just the asking, because Americans understand what it means to give back, whether they‘re in business or anything else they‘re doing, whether they‘re senior citizens or children.  It‘s the asking.  It‘s the giving.  It‘s the value of doing something to benefit others.  And it‘s just part of our faith and our understanding. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s also the best of our human nature.  Thank you Congresswoman Rosie Delauro and Congressman Ron Klein of Florida. 

Up next, Democratic Congresswoman Jane Harman, one of the top intelligence people in the House, is overheard on telephone calls, according to the “New York Times,” in an NSA wiretap, agreeing or listening to someone and agreeing to help pro-Israeli lobbyists in exchange for—in fact, accused spies, in exchanged for getting the chairmanship of the intelligence committee.  Where is that story headed?  We‘ll get to that in the politics fix.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JANE HARMAN (D), CALIFORNIA:  All these years—these are allegations of four years ago—I have never had a clue that this was happening.  I have never been notified by the Justice Department that I was under any form of investigation whatsoever, not just a target, but at all involved in an investigation.  And, oh, by the way, I didn‘t contact the Justice Department or anybody in the administration ever asking for lenient sentences for anybody. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back right now.  That was U.S. Congresswoman Jane Harman of California today on MSNBC.  She was on the front page of the “New York Times,” top of the fold today, under the headline, “Lawmaker is Said to Have Agreed to Aid Lobbyist.”  In fact the AIPAC lobbyists in question were accused of espionage. 

It‘s time now for the politics fix with the “New York Daily News‘” Tom Defrank and “Mother Jones‘” David Corn. 

Tricky business here, David.  Let‘s get this very precise.  The report basically said that she was picked up in an NSA intercept.  She wasn‘t being bugged.  She was in an intercept by the National Security Agency, wherein there was somebody trying to make an offer to her that if she got leniency for these two suspected spies—these are lobbyist for American Israeli Political Action Committee—that she would get some help, very heavy lifting, in fact, to get the chairmanship of the Intelligence Committee.  Where does this stand? 

DAVID CORN, “MOTHER JONES”:  Well, actually this story is a story of a double quid pro quo.  You just mentioned one end of it.  Let me give kudos to my colleague at “CQ Politics,” Jeff Stein for breaking this story, and the Times today confirmed it.  So the allegation in the report is that she said, I can help reduce the charges for two AIPAC officials, the pro-Israel lobby here in town, who are being charged with espionage charges.  In the same conversation, which was with a suspected Israeli agent, that person said, well, I can help you then become chair of the House Intelligence Committee, which she wanted to do.

So that‘s one end of the puzzle here.  The other end is, apparently, after this intercept came into existence—knowledge within the U.S.  government, the FBI started a preliminary investigation of her.  And then Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said, no, kill the investigation because Jane Harman could have been of use to the Bush administration in defending those warrentless wire taps that were so much in the news a few years ago. 

So there‘s a quid pro quo there.  Gonzales has yet to deny the charges.  And now we have what you just saw today on MSNBC earlier, that Jane Harman comes out and proclaims herself the victim of wire tapping, this person who used to defend the Bush wire tapping program, and demanding that the Justice Department release all these NSA intercepts, knowing full well that they can‘t do so without certain redactions. 

So, we really need a good investigation.  But so far there‘s been a lot of silence on the Hill and no word from the White House.  I tried to get a question to Robert Gibbs on this today, and he refused to take the question. 

MATTHEWS:  This is a late breaking story.  This is like a four year old story, according to Congresswoman Harman.  I heard the story, Tom Defank, back years ago that she wanted to be chair of the Intelligence Committee, but apparently got a little too aggressive in her tactics, apparently exploiting some of her pro-Israeli supporters, and putting to much pressure on Nancy Pelosi.  Pelosi didn‘t like it and jammed her. 

But that‘s the politics end.  I don‘t know anything about the legal end.  What do you think, Tom? 

TOM DEFRANK, “NEW YORK DAILY NEWS”:  I don‘t think there‘s a legal end for Mrs. Harman on this situation.  I think she got swept up on something that was not about her, and it probably cost her ultimately the House Intelligence Committee chairmanship that she really wanted.  But there‘s no investigation of Jane Harman‘s alleged misconduct.  There‘s nothing happening on that front. 

So she‘s got a political problem.  She doesn‘t have a criminal problem. 

MATTHEWS:  If you read the Times carefully, they have somebody who had access to these transcripts.  They didn‘t apparently share the transcripts with reporters at the Times.  They were the witnesses to those transcripts.  But if they didn‘t have access, they only had the ability to see the transcripts.  What kind of an official would be able to see a transcript, but not be able to Xerox it?  Do you know, David Corn?  What kind of a person would be the source to go after on this now?

CORN:  You‘ve got two ends of this.  You‘ve got the people who do the intercepting, people at the NSA and people who they might have shared those intercepts with within the intelligence committee.  And those could be counter-terrorism officials.  They could be dealing with issues of, say, Israeli espionage here.  I‘m just speculating.  I‘m not making any accusations. 

And then the piece of it is people on the side of the Justice Department and the FBI, where apparently there was talk of doing an investigation.  It was shut down by Attorney General Gonzales.  So those are the two ends where that information would have been reviewed.  And certainly someone from those circles first gave the story to Jeff Stein.  And he said actually in a blog he put up, I believe today, that he had this situation for a while.  It just took him until now to actually confirm it. 

So it‘s not as if anyone is plotting against Jane Harman anything directly about something happening in the news this week. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘re going to come right back and talk about this question of Dick Cheney, a much bigger story with both of them.  Of course, Dick Cheney has remained in Washington.  He has not left town.  He wants to continue the fight on behalf of President Bush, even though many people around President Bush, Matt Dowd, McClellan, people like that, have turned in many ways against the president.  It looks like the tail gunner in the future is going to be Dick Cheney.  We‘re going to have him to kick around for years to come, it looks like. 

We‘ll be right back with Tom Defrank and David Corn.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Tom Defrank and David Corn with another update on the Dick Cheney message.  He‘s trying to declassify, apparently.  the benefits of all that torturing, gentlemen.  Apparently, his request did not come through to the National Archives, where he sent it, until this afternoon.  So last night, when he said he had already done it, he hadn‘t quite got his tense right.  Not important though.

Tom Defrank, you know Dick Cheney.  You‘ve covered him.  You know him pretty well.  What is he up to?  Does he want to stay in the line of fire politically?  Why is he out there? 

DEFRANK:  I don‘t think he wants to stay in the line of fire politically, Chris.  But I don‘t think he cares if he does.  I just think he feels strongly about all of this stuff.  I still can‘t quite figure this all out, because when he left government—when he left the Ford administration in 1977, and when he left the first Bush government in 1993, he just faded away, didn‘t pop up, didn‘t have anything to say, didn‘t give interviews for quite a while.

And I think he must just really feel strongly about this, and he doesn‘t care.  He‘s not running for office.  He doesn‘t seem to care that it may be hurting his party, which I think it is.  

MATTHEWS:  David Corn, he seems to be staying in Washington.  That‘s the important thing.  Most of these guys sort of follow some kind of unwritten protocol and get out of town after they lose, or else don‘t talk.  He‘s staying in town and talking. 

CORN:  Yes.  Al Gore said, it‘s time for me to go, and he left. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

CORN:  He grew a beard.  He got a little heavy.  And then he eventually worked his way back into public life, criticizing the Bush-Cheney administration very strongly, but also doing his “Inconvenient Truth” film and all kinds of business deals as well.  Dick Cheney hasn‘t done that.  And he‘s going out there and he‘s giving these sort of hand fed interviews to Fox News.

I mean, Sean Hannity interviewing Dick Cheney is sort of like having Paul Schafer interview David Letterman or Igor interviewing Dr.  Frankenstein.  So he‘s using this just as a platform, because he‘s obviously very, very angry, and wants just a clear shot to fire away at Barack Obama and Joe Biden. 

MATTHEWS:  Can you come up with some more pairings?  I like those, Igor and Frankenstein.  Your last thought.  What I find interesting, though, is that President George W. Bush has left, gone back to the ranch, Tom.  He doesn‘t want to play defense.  People like Matt Dowd and McClellan, they‘ve come out and basically turn tail.  Do you think Dick Cheney—a little psycho babble here from you, sir—feels he has to do it? 

DEFRANK:  I don‘t know that he feels he has to do it.  I think he‘s itching to do it.  But it‘s very different.  President Bush is behaving the way former presidents behave.  By the way, I‘m told that Bush 41 gave his son this advice. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, great.  Thank you.  It seems like he would.  It seems like old Bush style.  Thank you, Tom Defrank, as always, from the “Daily News.”  Thank you, David Corn, from “Mother Jones.”  Right now it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz.

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