updated 5/15/2009 2:51:41 PM ET 2009-05-15T18:51:41

Guest: Rep. Joe Sestak, Rep. Dan Lungren, Donna Edwards, Mark Sanford, Duncan Hunter, Todd Harris, Steve McMahon, Kelly O‘Donnell

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Spreading the blame.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington.  Leading off: Hear no evil.  Speaker Nancy Pelosi said and continues to say that the CIA didn‘t tell her back in 2002 that terrorist suspects had been waterboarded.  The CIA and Pelosi‘s Republican counterpart on the Intelligence Committee says she was told, was specifically told that waterboarding had been used to get information from prisoners.

Here‘s Pelosi making her case today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Madam Speaker, just to be clear, you‘re accusing the CIA of lying to you in September of 2002.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  Yes, misleading the Congress of the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And also...

PELOSI:  Misleading the Congress of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, once Pelosi did find out about the waterboarding from a briefing of a staffer early in 2003, she remained silent because she was focused on getting Democrats elected to the White House and Congress, according to her.  Well, hearing her today, Republicans hit back, implying she‘s the problem.  We‘ll have the story covered from all the angles tonight.

Also, President Obama is learning that governing is a lot different than campaigning.  His latest decision to try to block the release of those new prisoner abuse photos fights his pledges of transparency.  And it‘s another example of the president coming down on the side of the military when a close call has to be made.  The decision has also made for strange bedfellows, as you‘ll see.  Tonight, we have a Republican who supports the president and a Democrat who doesn‘t.

Plus: Really, what are the Republicans thinking?  It‘s not clear what those ‘tea bag” tax protests on April 15th did, other than embarrass some Republicans.  So what are they doing now?  Well, they‘re holding another one of those tea bag days tonight, and this one on line.  Governors Mark Sanford of South Carolina and Rick Perry of Texas are the party givers tonight, and Governor Sanford joins us in a few minutes.

And even Bill Clinton can‘t resist taking shots at former vice president Dick Cheney.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I wish him well.  It‘s over.  I wish him well.  It‘s over.  But I do hope he gets some more target practice before he goes out again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  Well, suddenly, the public Cheney has become the Democrats‘ favorite target.  We‘ll keep trying to answer the question, Why is the vice president, who hid in undisclosed locations for eight years, doing all this talking now?  That‘s in the “Politics Fix” tonight.

And President Obama gave the commencement address at Arizona State University last night.  That‘s ASU for everybody out there.  So where‘s the honorary degree?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I learned never again to pick another team over the Sun Devils in my NCAA brackets.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA:  President Crow and the board of regents will soon learn about being audited by the IRS.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that wasn‘t such a joke in the old days.  Hope it‘s still a joke now.  That and a lot more in the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”

We begin with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.  Let‘s go to NBC‘s Nancy—

Kelly O‘Donnell.  Kelly, thank you.  Why is Nancy Pelosi in the crosshairs today?  What‘d she do that‘s caused all the fuss about her?

KELLY O‘DONNELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, Chris, there‘s been a hair-splitting quality to her comments.  This all comes out of the release of those Office of Legal Counsel memos that detailed all of the rationale behind the Bush administration‘s use of techniques like waterboarding.  And so when Speaker Pelosi first started to talk about what she knew, some of her most ardent supporters were upset about why didn‘t she do more to stop it.

Her responses have been really hard to follow in some cases.  And in some instances, Chris, it appears that she contradicts what fellow members of Congress have said and what the CIA says.  And that has been a brew that‘s been bubbling around for about three weeks now, and it really spiked today with that clip you played where she accuses the CIA of lying.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s look at a bit of that right now, Kelly.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PELOSI:  So my statement is clear, and let me read it again.  Let me

read it again.  I‘m sorry, I have to find the page.  When my staff person -

I‘m sorry.  I have the pages out of order.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that was the problem.  It‘s a bit befuddled there for a moment today.  But let‘s get to the really important points here, Kelly.  And you‘ve been reporting this.  Number one, when she was briefed back in September of 2002, she says in her account she was told that they had authorization to use waterboarding, but they specifically told her—the briefer did—that they hadn‘t used it yet.  Is that correct?

O‘DONNELL:  Yes.  That is a...

MATTHEWS:  Is that her account?

O‘DONNELL:  ... distinction that she makes, that it was a discussion of the legality of waterboarding.  And she fiercely insists that she was told it had not been used.  What we know separately, all the events unfolding in the year since, is that by that time, September 2002, one of the three suspects on which waterboarding was used had already been waterboarded 83 times.  So the question is, if it was already being used, why wouldn‘t the CIA have told her?  If they did tell her, some of her supporters, especially on the left, want to know why she didn‘t do anything, why she didn‘t protest.

MATTHEWS:  Well, then again, several months later, in February of 2003, her staffer received a briefing and told her what the briefing was.  And that briefing was to the effect, according to her, that there was waterboarding going on, it had gone on.

O‘DONNELL:  And this is where things got so complicated to follow because now she acknowledges for the first time that in February 2003, she was aware waterboarding was being used.  What she says today is that her position of leadership had changed.  She was no longer the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee.  She didn‘t have any standing to protest.  And today she further said that if she had protested, it wouldn‘t have done any good with the Bush administration.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

O‘DONNELL:  So it‘s been hard to follow, but what‘s important and what you saw in her comments is that she was adhering to a statement, trying to be careful, which I think by just observing is an acknowledgement that she knows some of what she‘s said along the way here has only added to the controversy, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, and whenever you try to stay to a strict statement, people wonder why you can‘t just say it in your own words every time.  Why does it have to be so carefully aligned with certain words that are on that page?  That‘s a tricky question for the Speaker.  Let‘s bring in—thank you very much, Kelly O‘Donnell, for that report.

Joining us right now is U.S. Congressman Joe Sestak.  He‘s a Democrat of Pennsylvania.  He sits on the Armed Services Committee.  And U.S.  Congressman Dan Lungren has been with us so often.  He‘s a Republican of California who sits on Homeland Security and on Judiciary.

Congressman Sestak, you first.  Now, this is a tricky situation.  You weren‘t in those briefings, but is Nancy Pelosi being dragged into this story?  Is she being made to share the blame for the torture?

REP. JOE SESTAK (D), PENNSYLVANIA:  You know, I really think what we have to do is what I said when this all began, stop this “he said, she said” stuff and establish a commission, an outside commission because we were too partisan, that begins to learn what occurred.

For example, Chris, back when you worked for Senator Church, as you were leaving his staff, they established a Church commission because of the CIA abuses of assassinations.  What happened with the recommendation that we have select intelligence committees that were established?  And let‘s find out why did it occur that, evidently, some were briefed or some weren‘t.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

SESTAK:  So my point of all this is let‘s—I understand what President Obama does, wants to go forward, but if we don‘t clean up what occurred and find out, we‘ll just be the Hatfields and McCoys, you know, coming back at each other.  We won‘t learn anything for the public good.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Actually, I didn‘t work for Senator Church, but I did respect him.  Let me go to this other question...

SESTAK:  But we did establish the intelligence committee...

MATTHEWS:  Oh, I know all about that.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I was a student of that.  I did watch closely what they tried to do with cleaning up the mess over there.

Let‘s take a look at Speaker Pelosi here and what she says about that CIA briefing and how she said she was, well, lied to, if not her words, certainly her meaning here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PELOSI:  I‘m telling you that they talked about interrogations that they had done and said, We want to use enhanced techniques and we have legal opinions that say that they are OK.  We are not using waterboarding.  That‘s the only mention, that they were not using it.  And we know now that earlier, they were.  So yes, I am saying that they are misleading—that the CIA was misleading the Congress.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s go—here‘s House minority leader John Boehner today on this very topic, as well, jumping in on this story.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), MINORITY LEADER:  And it‘s hard for me to imagine that anyone in our intelligence area would ever mislead a member of Congress.  I don‘t know what motivation they would have.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  It‘s hard to keep up with this all, Congressman Lungren, but here he goes.  I know everybody has a political point of view.  I‘m trying to follow the narrative here.  First account from the Speaker was that she was told they had authorization to use these enhanced interrogation techniques, waterboarding, et cetera, but they hadn‘t used them yet.  We find out later that they had used them.

Then we find out from her staffer several months later, or she does, as well, that they are using them.  And now we find out in this most recent statement that they explicitly said they were not using waterboarding.  I don‘t know.  It‘s hard to keep up.  Your thoughts?  Your assessment?

REP. DAN LUNGREN ®, CALIFORNIA:  Well, it just proves that it‘s tough to be a Monday morning quarterback when you were actually on the field the previous Saturday.  I mean, the fact of the matter is, she was the representative of the Democratic Party on the Intelligence Committee that got the top-flight briefings.  I previously served on the Intelligence Committee, although I was not a ranking member.  I‘ve sat through briefings from the CIA and other intelligence agencies.

It is beyond belief—at least you have to be pretty naive, in my

judgment—to think that the top person of either party would sit there

with a briefing and not ask questions and accept the fact that they‘ve been

that they‘d explained to them some enhanced interrogation techniques and never believed they were going to be used.  Why would they be informing them that they were going through the process for it?  I mean, you know, you‘ve been around the block here in Washington, D.C.  Does that sound credible to you?

MATTHEWS:  It seems to me that if they briefed her—both of you gentlemen—if they briefed her, they did so with the purpose of getting her tacit approval, and that‘s what they thought they got.  Maybe they didn‘t get it.

Here‘s Porter Goss, by the way.  He was the top Republican—he was the chairman at that time.  Here‘s his account of that briefing which he shared with Nancy Pelosi at the time.  “I am slack-jawed to read that members claim to have not understood that the techniques on which they were briefed were to actually be employed or that specific techniques such as waterboarding were never mentioned.”

So I mean, this is so hard for you gentlemen.  Congressman Sestak, again it‘s tough.  Neither one of you gentlemen were in that briefing.  But we‘re hearing a “he said, she said.”  On the one side, you got the he‘s in this case.  I think they‘re all he‘s.  The CIA briefer, I assume, maybe just because they‘re mostly he‘s over there, who knows—he says that she was briefed, in fact, briefed on the fact that waterboarding was used and had been used, period.  Simple as that—Here it is, Congresswoman, waterboarding‘s been used.

The ranking Republican who was the chair at that time, Porter Goss, who later joined the intelligence community itself, he said that she was briefed very directly on the use of waterboarding in the past tense.  Now, she says continually now she was never told it was used, only that it was authorized.

Stick to this point if you can, Congressman Sestak.  Is this fighting over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, or are we really into a problem here of testimony?

SESTAK:  Yes, we are into an issue of accountability.  I believe that‘s the most dire issue we have here in Washington, D.C., is congressional, executive branch accountability, whether it‘s by an individual or whether we have a commission that looks into this.

Look, it is a thousand angels on a head, to some degree.  We aren‘t

going to know how to improve it.  Did her secrecy oath prevent her from

saying it or not?  There‘s only one way, Chris, to get to this.  And we‘ve

got some debris in our wake, and before this ship of state can continue on,

we have got to have a nonpartisan—that is, a bipartisan, but it should

be retired judges or someone, to keep it out of Congress because of all

this fighting you hear—and have people investigate this and look into it

so we can apply lessons learned for the future.  Can Congress—should it

how could it do better?  That‘s the issue...

MATTHEWS:  OK, one question...

SESTAK:  ... besides the executive branch.

LUNGREN:  Chris?

MATTHEWS:  You want to have a commission?  Do you want witnesses speaking under oath?

SESTAK:  Yes, they should have...

MATTHEWS:  Mr. Sestak?

SESTAK:  ... it.  Here‘s what they do...

MATTHEWS:  Including the Speaker?  Including the Speaker?

SESTAK:  Two things.  Two things.  The way it is in the military, if an airplane crashes, there‘s two investigations.  One, criminal, court-martial, to see if something should be done.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

SESTAK:  And the Justice Department should turn that over to the court.  On the other hand, we give immunity to everyone, the same people, to come before the commissions to say what can we learn so that our...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

SESTAK:  ... we don‘t crash again.  And we can‘t crash again like this in the United States.

MATTHEWS:  Well, if there‘s immunity in the second case and the first one is a criminal matter, then they have to be under both in both cases, right?

SESTAK:  Yes.

LUNGREN:  Chris?  Chris?

MATTHEWS:  Mr. Sestak, you would put the Speaker under oath here, as well—the Speaker?

SESTAK:  I‘d put anyone in America under oath if we can help improve good governance and accountability.

LUNGREN:  Hey, Chris?  Chris?

MATTHEWS:  Mr. Lungren, would you put these people under oath, including the Speaker, in this regard?

LUNGREN:  If we‘re going to...

MATTHEWS:  In this truth commission?

LUNGREN:  If we‘re going to go down this line—I don‘t believe in a truth commission, but if we‘re going to go down this line, it‘s got to be the legislative leaders, as well as the executive branch leaders, to know what they‘re doing—know what they did.

But actually, what we ought to be thinking about is the context in which these decisions were made.  We forget what we were at.  We were within a year of 9/11.  We were having attacks around the world.  There were people dying in other countries, allies of ours.  We were trying to obtain the best information we had at the time.  Now all of a sudden, people have forgotten that, and they want to make judgments outside the context of what happened at that time, and I think that leads us to erroneous conclusions.

Secondly, remember what happened with the Church commission.  Yes, we had recommendations that came forward with respect to intelligence committees, but we also had a decimation of a whole generation of operatives in the CIA, “humint,” human intelligence.  And when the 9/11 commission pointed out that that was one of the great failings of our intelligence prior to 9/11 -- we lost a generation of people that could get us information.

MATTHEWS:  OK...

LUNGREN:  And I fear we could have that same thing happen again, and that will not only affect us, it will affect our children and our grandchildren.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Well, I agree with you on many points here, but again, let‘s not lose the truth here.  Denying a person oxygen is torture.  Thank you very much, U.S. Congressman Joe Sestak and U.S. Congressman Dan Lungren.

Up next: Is President Obama right or wrong for trying to block the release of those new prisoner abuse photos?  That debate coming next, and it‘ll surprise you, different sides here, a Democrat opposing the president, a Republican supporting him.

You‘re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Well, is President Obama right to block the release of those new prisoner abuse photos that were take in Iraq and Afghanistan?  And does this decision contradict his long campaign pledge, his many times pledge, to have transparency in the White House?

U.S. Congresswoman Donna Edwards, a Democrat from Maryland, and U.S.  Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter of California, who‘s a member of the Armed Services Committee.  I believe you‘re both freshmen members.  Thank you for joining us.

Congresswoman Edwards, you first.  You disagree with your president.

REP. DONNA EDWARDS (D), MARYLAND:  I do.  I mean, I think it‘s time for the president to really maintain his campaign promise, and you know, operate with transparency and accountability and to get a fresh start for the United States when it comes to our relationships around the world.  And the best way to do that on this issue is to release these photographs.

MATTHEWS:  You know, he‘s about to go over to Cairo in a couple of weeks, an Arab country in the middle of the Arab world, among a billion Islamic people.  Do you think it‘s smart for us to release these terrible pictures, apparently, of U.S. servicepeople abusing Arab men just at the time he‘s visiting the Arab world?  Is that a good thing to do?

EDWARDS:  Well, I think for the Arab world and for the rest of the world, in order for us to, you know, regain our moral authority in the world, it‘s time to come clean about what we did and for the president of the United States, this new president, to say that we‘re going to operate in a different way going forward.  And I think the Arab world will actually be receptive to that message, but only if we come clean.

MATTHEWS:  Congressman Hunter, thank you for joining us.  The same question to you.  Is the president right in withholding these pictures from not just American eyes but the world‘s eyes?

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER ®, CALIFORNIA:  It‘s a big surprise, but I think that the president is right on with this.  And here‘s why.  This would be a totally different argument if we were not engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan.  If this was not going to be used—if these photos wouldn‘t be used for recruiting tools to recruit terrorists, then it‘s a totally different argument.  Right now, while we‘re at war, the president made the right decision.  He realized this would harm the U.S. military, harm the men and women over there.  His number one job is national security, and he made the right decision here.

MATTHEWS:  What do you make, Congressman, of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, your counterpart committee‘s report, which was signed by ranking member John McCain and Lindsey Graham, two very strong military guys, that the abuses which we have seen in those pictures, especially from Abu Ghraib, really came from the top; they weren‘t a few bad apples? 

What do you make of that? 

HUNTER:  That—I don‘t know...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Do you share that assessment, based on what you know.

HUNTER:  No, I think it was a few bad apples.  I don‘t think that the...

MATTHEWS:  You disagree with the Senate committee? 

(CROSSTALK)

HUNTER:  Yes.  And you know what?  I don‘t—I don‘t think water-boarding is torture either, Chris.  I know we probably disagree on that. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, I don‘t want to disagree on something I‘m not talking about. 

Let‘s talk about what I‘m talking about, abuse of prisoners, according to the Senate Armed Services Committee report, which went through channels.  It was cleared and vetted by the Defense Department.  It was signed by all the Republican members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, including those guys we know well who are very pro-military, like McCain and Lindsey Graham.  All those fellows on that committee, and women, signed that report saying this did not come from the noncoms and the junior officers.  It came from the top. 

You‘re disagreeing with that?

HUNTER:  Yes.  And—I haven‘t seen it, Chris.  But I...

MATTHEWS:  How do you know? 

HUNTER:  Because I was in the Marine corps.  I did three tours. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  And how do you know about these abuses?

HUNTER:  Because I know the people that are in the military.  I lived with them and fought with them.

MATTHEWS:  And you know these abuses...

(CROSSTALK)

HUNTER:  And I will tell you, the people in the military, greatest people on Earth—greatest Americans that we have are those that are serving and sacrificing.

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s not the point here.  The point is, we know the abuses took place.  Were they brought about by advice or guidance from above?  According to the committee, they were.

(CROSSTALK)

HUNTER:  You would have court-martials, then, Chris. 

(CROSSTALK)

EDWARDS:  Chris, this is why accountability is so important. 

HUNTER:  You would have court-martials if that‘s true.

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s the question.  That‘s the whole question. 

They say there should have been responsibility from the top.

I want to go back to Congresswoman Edwards on this. 

We have got a Senate committee report that the abuses we‘re talking about in these pictures, generically, was not fairly called the result of a few bad apples, but came from the top. 

EDWARDS:  Well, this is...

MATTHEWS:  Now, Congressman Duncan Hunter disagrees with that.  Fine. 

He doesn‘t have the evidence, but he disagrees with it.  What‘s your view? 

EDWARDS:  Well, Chris, I mean, I think that‘s why accountability is really important. 

I don‘t think that we place the blame on line officers and NCOs who were following orders.  There has to be accountability from the top, those who ordered this behavior that they knew was against international law, that they knew was—was torture and abusive, and shouldn‘t have happened.

And the only way we can get that accountability is, one, release the evidence, and, two, go through—go through a chain where we actually hold people accountable.  And I think, in that way, this administration will say to the rest of the world and will say to the American public, you know what?  We‘re not about torture.  We‘re about our moral authority, and we are going to forward and conduct wars in the way that we know meets with our international obligations.

And it will be a new way forward.  But, if this administration continues along the lines of secrecy and opaqueness and vagueness when it comes to—to torture and abusive practices, I—you know what?   

HUNTER:  There‘s a war going on.  Wars are secret.  You have got to have some secrecy. 

EDWARDS:  And what will best—what will best—what will best protect our—our service men or women, if they are captured, is if we come clean and say that—that we don‘t engage in this kind of behavior. 

That‘s what‘s going to protect the interests of our service men and women.  And I think that, when you have this going on at the top, there must be accountability. 

MATTHEWS:  The strange point here is, Congressman Hunter, is that you agree with the president, and he agrees with you, because he says that these pictures were—terrible pictures—were taken of incidents which involved what he called a small number of individuals, or a few bad apples, if you will, using different language, whereas the American—the Armed Services Committee of the Senate said that these abuses came from the top. 

And, certainly, we have all kinds of evidence that came from Gitmo, over to Abu Ghraib, of—of orders to soften up these prisoners in detention for interrogation, that the people guarding them were told to abuse them to get them in a terrible state, so they were willing to talk. 

Now, this is all on the record.

HUNTER:  Chris, you didn‘t have—you didn‘t have senior officers...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead.  I‘m sorry.  Go ahead. 

HUNTER:  You didn‘t have senior officers ordering people to have naked human pyramids.  That‘s—that‘s ridiculous. 

And, first off, these are terrorists.  These are enhanced—enhanced interrogation techniques.  We don‘t know what these pictures show.  They might show CIA guys softening up terrorists to save American lives. 

I don‘t think that there‘s anything wrong with that.  That doesn‘t mean that we ought to show the pictures around the world. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  

EDWARDS:  Chris, these pictures are about us.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about—as a serviceman, you know something I don‘t know. 

I want the congressman to answer a question that I don‘t know. 

You‘re out there fighting, like you were—and thank you for your service, sir, and your dad as well.  You have got a great military tradition in your family. 

But let me ask you about this.  When you‘re over there fighting, is there a sense among enlisted and officers that—that these kinds of pictures are causing—are stirring up recruitment on the other side?  Do you sense that when you‘re out there on point? 

HUNTER:  Oh, absolutely.  I have been told that.  Oh, absolutely. 

And you don‘t want anything released that makes the enemy able to recruit more—more people than they—than they already have.  This is war.  We want to win, Chris.  After we win, then we can talk about this, and you can probably release anything that you want to do.

But, right now, while we have people in—in harm‘s way, keep those photos secret.  The president did—did the right thing here. 

MATTHEWS:  See, that would be my argument for not having torture and stuff like that, because, using the same argument, Congresswoman, I would say that‘s what stirs up the enemy, not just the pictures of what goes on, but what goes on. 

Your thoughts?

HUNTER:  But we have never tortured, Chris. 

EDWARDS:  I think that—I think that—Chris, I think that‘s exactly right. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, we water-board.

EDWARDS:  And we—and we have to have moral authority in the rest of the world. 

And, right now, we lose that credibility, in a moment when President Obama has an—has an opportunity to regain it.  And we have to actually come clean with the rest of the world about this and say, we‘re not engaged in this kind of behavior again. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  OK.  Thank you. 

This conversation will continue.

And thank you both for joining us...

EDWARDS:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  ... U.S. Congresswoman Edwards and U.S. Congressman Duncan Hunter. 

(CROSSTALK)  

MATTHEWS:  Up next:  Guess who is backing Miss California USA in opposing same-sex marriage?  Well, that‘s in the “Sideshow.”

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

Actually, President Obama is.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  Back to HARDBALL and back to the “Sideshow.”

First up, turning lemons into lemonade.  Last month, Arizona State University, ASU, caught flak for its decision not to award an honorary degree to President Obama, their commencement speaker this year, reasoning that the president‘s body of work is—quote—“yet to come.”

Well, last night, the president turned it all in a punchline. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Before I begin, I would just like to clear the air about that little controversy everybody was talking about a few weeks back. 

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

OBAMA:  I have to tell you, I really thought this was much ado about nothing.  But I do think we all learned an important lesson. 

I learned never again to pick another team over the Sun Devils in my NCAA brackets. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

OBAMA:  President Crow and the board of regents will soon learn about being audited by the IRS. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, the president used a tiff over the non-degree as the tipping-off point for his entire speech, telling students that, like him, they shouldn‘t rest on degrees or tributes, and get into the mind-set that they haven‘t done enough in life yet. 

Next up:  Tell me you didn‘t see this one coming.  Governor Sarah Palin‘s back in the headlines, this time backing Miss California USA, Carrie Prejean, and her media tour opposing same-sex marriage. 

Here is what the governor is saying—quote—These politically-motivated attacks fail to show that what Carrie and I believe is also what President Obama and Secretary Clinton believe.  Marriage is between a man and a woman.  Our Constitution protects us all, not just those who agree with the far left.”

Well, here is what I think.  I think Miss America—or Miss California USA, rather, had a perfect right to give the answer she did in that contest when asked about same-sex marriage.  After all, about half of her state, California, agrees with her, as does the president. 

As for her later joining up with that group the National Organization for Marriage to go campaigning on the issue, well, she can defend herself on that one. 

And here is a little blast from the past.  Top White House aide David Axelrod will appear tonight on NPR‘s quiz show “Wait, Wait... Don‘t Tell Me!”  But get this.  It turns out his boss on the show back in 2005 in his first year as a U.S. senator. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, “WAIT, WAIT... DON‘T TELL ME!”)

OBAMA:  It is a thrill to be here, although, as I said, the main reason that I‘m on here is because I remember you guys making fun of my name during the campaign. 

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA:  If I recall correctly, didn‘t you have some political consultant giving advice in terms of how I should change my name to Barack Smith or...

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes. 

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Let‘s get right to it.  A lot of speculation, with all your popularity and your success, you‘re going to run for president in 2008. 

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  So, Senator Obama...

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  ... let us all know.  Tell—tell—tell the people—people your plans. 

OBAMA:  My plans are to go home and do the dishes, like my wife told me to do. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END AUDIO CLIP) 

MATTHEWS:  Well, there‘s a dodge. 

By the way, then-Senator Obama‘s trivia topic on the show that night was about baseball Hall of Famer Wade Boggs have certain superstitions.  Senator Barack Obama got two out of three right. 

Time now for tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

Earlier this week, Governor Charlie Crist jumped into Florida‘s U.S.  Senate race, dramatically increasing Republicans‘ chances of holding onto that seat.  To get a sense of how desperate Republicans were, how long did it take for the national party to endorse Crist over a much more conservative Republican Senate hopeful, former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio? 

Well, according to “The Miami Herald,” 14 minutes to decide that one.  This will tell you how much the Republicans, especially Senator Cornyn of Texas, whose job it is to win Republican seats, are determined to get Republicans elected, any Republicans.  Republicans wait just 14 minutes to give Governor Crist the good housekeeping seal of approval—tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

Up next:  Republicans are hoping to recapture the grassroots energy of last month‘s Tea Parties.  Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina is hosting a tele-town hall tonight that‘s being dubbed Tea Party 2.0.  And he‘s coming right here right next to tell us all about the Tea Party tonight. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Stocks rising, ending three days of losses, the Dow gaining 46 points, the S&P 500 tacking on nine, while the Nasdaq climbed 25. 

First-time unemployment claims rose unexpectedly last week to 637,000, mostly due to layoffs by Chrysler.  We may see more of them.  Meantime, the number of people continuing to receive unemployment benefits set a record for a 15th straight week, rising to more than 6.5 million. 

Chrysler also began notifying dealerships that it plans to eliminate under its new restructuring plan.  Chrysler plans to dump nearly 800 of its 32,000 dealers nationwide by June 9. 

And the world‘s largest drugmaker, Pfizer, unveiled a new program to let people who have lost their jobs and their health insurance receive their prescription drugs for free for up to a year.  Among the widely used medications Pfizer will provide at no cost, Lipitor, Zoloft, and Viagra. 

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

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Remember those tax day Tea Parties on April 15?  Well, tonight, Texas Governor Rick Perry—you know him—he‘s the one that talks about secession now and then—and South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford are trying to reprise that on the Web. 

With me now, Governor Mark Sanford.

Governor, thank you very much for joining us. 

What‘s this with taxes?  Are taxes bad? 

GOV. MARK SANFORD ®, SOUTH CAROLINA:  Well, I don‘t think any of us want to pay any more than our fair share on that front. 

MATTHEWS:  But are they bad? 

SANFORD:  I guess the only certainty in life are, I guess, death and taxes.

But, yes, above a certain point, absolutely.  Are they necessary below a certain point?  Absolutely, as well.

MATTHEWS:  But they‘re not bad in themselves, are they?  Are taxes bad in themselves?

SANFORD:  They can be obtrusive.  No, they‘re one of those necessities that go with life. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

So, how do we know when they exceed the right level and given the times and all those ways you have to decide things?  You have a budget to meet.  The federal government has a fiscal and an economic crisis and banking crisis to face.  How do you know what the right level is? 

SANFORD:  Well, I think that you can look at historic norms.  And what you see in our country is, very consistently, for about 50 years, we have been at about 20 percent of GDP overall taxes. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

SANFORD:  You could be in a high tax rate, you could be in a low tax rate, but that was about as much blood as you could squeeze from a turnip in this country.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

SANFORD:  And the way we‘re headed—and this is not my number, but David Walker, former comptroller general of the United States of America, says we‘re headed to an unsustainable point, wherein there will be a plane wreck or a—a car crash based on where taxes are headed. 

And, so, we‘re headed to a point that I don‘t think any of us need or want to go. 

MATTHEWS:  so, what do we do about this now, besides hold the rallies?

I mean, you have got a president who has passed the stimulus package. 

You have got Bernanke at the Fed, who is printing money by the trillions.  I mean, that‘s what scares me, personally, these—these box office numbers in terms of fiscal policy.  We‘re only taxing—you say we‘re not taxing enough—or we‘re taxing too much—I‘m sorry—but we‘re only taxing like half the money we‘re spending now.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  It‘s scary.  This government is spending twice what it‘s bringing in, in taxes.  Doesn‘t that scare you? 

SANFORD:  And—and—it absolutely horrifies me, but, more importantly, it horrified a lot of people around this country on April 15.

And that‘s where I would give real credit to the tax day organizers that—that basically came up with saying, wait, we have got to make our voice heard...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

SANFORD:  ... because we are on a—a—a course that will be absolutely crippling to the next generation.

And the question for all of us now is, what do we then do?  And—and where Rick and I are coming from and where I are coming from, and where I think a lot of other people are coming from is next courses of action.  I‘m not saying we have the first course of action, or by any means the only course of action.  But everybody in their own neighborhood ought to come up with a course of action in trying to do something about this. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, give me the big box car programs you would cut, where you would do big cuts.  Not a few earmarks here and there, if you can save a few bucks there.  But where is the big money?  We‘re talking about a federal government right now that is going to double its national debt in the next four years.  The Bush administration doubled our national debt.  Here we go doing it again.  By the time this administration is through its first term, we‘ll have a 13 trillion national debt, which is equal to our GDP right now. 

So what would you cut?  You almost have to get into the trillions to start cutting this deficit down.  What do you do?  What can you cut that‘s worth that kind of money? 

SANFORD:  Well, again, everybody ought to live in the sand box they live in—

MATTHEWS:  But what do you want do cut? 

SANFORD:  Right here in South Carolina, we‘re in the throes of a budget debate on that very front.  For instance, we‘re going after a Capitol Hill police force that‘s been created here in Columbia.  We‘re going after changing aeronautics that doesn‘t make any sense.  We‘re going after a Terry program that added over a billion dollars of debt to our retirement system in South Carolina, and we say it‘s long outdated.  That‘s why we‘re having this larger debate on whether we should take 700 million dollars of federal stimulus money, and allocate it to paying down debt, versus going on and spending the whole thing. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s less than a billion dollars.  I‘m talking about the federal government, that‘s reaching doubling its national debt, up to 13 trillion.  If you want to do anything about national taxes, do anything about the national debt, you‘ve got to—you want to cut Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, the federal budget in terms—you can‘t cut the interest payments.  You legally have to pay them to T-Bond holders.  The military can‘t be cut really. 

Where are you going to cut in these big areas of federal spending?  I have heard this argument for 30 or 40 years.  We‘re going to cut the federal spending level.  Nobody ever points to a big box car area where they‘re going to get rid of a program.  What are you going to get rid of in the federal government right now that saves money?

SANFORD:  No, no. 

MATTHEWS:  Name a program you want to get rid of it.  Name a program you want to get rid of.  Name one. 

SANFORD:  Wait, wait, wait.  Let‘s go back to two different things. 

One, I think that you ought to focus on the area you can make a difference.  So if you have a tea party psychology, and you live in New Jersey, and you want to make a difference in that county, that‘s the place you ought to start. 

I happen to live in South Carolina.  I happen to be governor of South Carolina.  And my focus happens to be here in this state. 

In answer to your question, though, going back to my days in Congress, I have long believed that, for instance, the Social Security system has got to change.  And there are a whole host of experts on both sides of the aisle that happen to agree.  That would be a big place. 

MATTHEWS:  How do you cut it? 

SANFORD:  How do you cut it? 

MATTHEWS:  How do you cut Social Security?

SANFORD:  I think you reform it.  I think you reconfigure it.  If you look at basically Matagora (ph) County, Texas, they moved to a system of personal accounts, wherein there was personal ownership, as opposed to money going to a giant slush fund in Washington, D.C., and it has worked for those recipients.  I think you have to ultimately move to a system closer to that. 

MATTHEWS:  Go back to what President Bush was trying to do, which is have personal accounts, as opposed to a big Social Security system of a big fund that gets shared.  You‘d rather have individual accounts.  That might save it.

Thank you.  Let me ask you this, do you think we‘re going to get you, Mark Sanford, to run for president?  Because you were on the short list we keep hearing about.  I appreciate you coming on this show.  Everybody seems to like you in your party.  You‘re a guy who is an executive.  You‘re in a state that‘s regularly Republican.  You can—Well, start there.  You can deliver South Carolina.  I can bet that one right now.  You would carry South Carolina.  That‘s a safe bet. 

SANFORD:  Thanks so much, Chris.  That‘s really encouraging, you know. 

MATTHEWS:  Now, the question is can you carry Iowa?  Can you carry New Hampshire?  Can you carry the tricky states? 

SANFORD:  The beauty of being on a show with you, Chris, is you never know quite where you‘re going to end up.  Let me go back to what we were originally going to talk about—

MATTHEWS:  We know about the tea bags.  We did the tea bags.  You‘re Paul Revere.  We have done all that.  You have all the tea bag stuff.  I‘m with you on that.  It‘s great for people to participate, even if they disagree with different people.  And I agree we have to deal with the federal debt.  We have to deal with too much government and all that. 

I‘m all with you.  But are you going to run for president.  You‘re doing all this theater.  You must be up to something.  This is a national thing you‘re doing right now.  You‘re on my show, by the way, which is a leading indicator you‘re going national. 

SANFORD:  No, I tell you what we‘re going national on, 2010, which is

I happen to be chairman of the Republican Governors Association.  2012 matters not one iota for the Republican party unless you get 2010 right, with regard to redistricting and the census based on the governorships that are at play.  

MATTHEWS:  I‘m very proud to have you on because my wife and I, Kathleen and I hold honorary degrees, doctorates, from the University of South Carolina, a beautiful place.  And thank you very much for coming on tonight.  I do think you‘re running for president.  Mark Sanford of South Carolina, it started here on HARDBALL. 

SANFORD:  You‘re wrong on that one. 

MATTHEWS:  This campaign is on. 

Up next, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi takes on the CIA.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER:  I‘m telling you that they talked about interrogations that they had done and said, we want to use enhanced techniques and we have legal opinion that is say that they are OK.  We are not using water boarding.  That‘s the only mention, that they were not using it.  And we now know that earlier they were. 

So, yes, I am saying that they are misleading—the CIA was misleading the Congress. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, this story grows.  Welcome back to HARDBALL and the politics fix.  That, of course, was Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, at her news conference today, accusing the CIA of not telling the truth, of lying, if you will, without using the word. 

Speaker Pelosi has been under attack from Republicans on torture, but was holding the press conference today for political strategy or what?  Steve McMahon is a Democratic strategist and Todd Harris is a Republican strategist. 

Steve, I wonder why she exposed herself to press inquiry when she had to rely on that statement she was looking for unsuccessfully.  And I don‘t get it, because I‘m trying to get this statement clear.  Did she or did she not get warned that they were considering using water boarding?  The latest development was she said she was told they specifically foreclosed using water boarding.  I hadn‘t heard that before. 

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Here‘s what she was told: she was told that they were using enhanced interrogation techniques, occasionally, but she was also told that they had legal opinions that justified those tactics that they were using.  And she apparently now today says she was told they were not water boarding. 

But the implications when you say we have legal authority is that you have some sort of judicial authority, not a memo from a political appointee in the Justice Department who was later given a judge-ship.  That‘s not exactly legal authority. 

MATTHEWS:  You mean Jay Bybee? 

MCMAHON:  Yes, somebody asked him to write a memo.  He‘s a political appointee.  He knows what result they want.  He gave it to him.

MATTHEWS:  Is she complicit in this, Todd? 

TODD HARRIS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  Is the speaker complicit by getting a heads up on this, to some extent?  We‘re not clear what—

HARRIS:  Complicit and hypocritical.  The one crime—a political crime the American people don‘t ever forgive is hypocrisy.  The reason she needed a statement is because she hasn‘t been telling the truth. 

MATTHEWS:  Can you have democracy without hypocrisy?  I‘m just asking. 

HARRIS:  She‘s not telling the truth.  Let‘s walk through.  First she said she didn‘t know anything about water boarding.  Then she said, OK, well, I was told that they said this was legal, but that it wasn‘t being used. 

MATTHEWS:  Hadn‘t been used yet. 

HARRIS:  Hadn‘t been used.  Then she said, OK, I knew that it was being used, but I didn‘t do anything about it because Jane Harman had written a strongly worded letter and I thought that—

MATTHEWS:  When did she say that last part? 

MCMAHON:  She didn‘t say that.

HARRIS:  Yes, she did. 

MCMAHON:  No, no.

(CROSS TALK)

MCMAHON:  Come on, are they always right?  She said that she knew that they were using techniques that they said were legal and she was told that they were not water boarding. 

HARRIS:  Then the press said why didn‘t you protest this?  She said, well, Jane Harman had already written a her, and I thought that was the appropriate response. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s get this clarified.  If it comes out—Bob Windrem was on MSNBC.  We‘re going to get him on tomorrow night.  He is an expert in this field.  They now have evidence the vice president‘s office—it doesn‘t say who the office was, whether it was the shingles on the top of the roof, or I don‘t know what, the water cooler.  Something in that office, a human being, sent word over to Iraq or Afghanistan asking for higher levels, more intensive interrogations, in fact water boarder of suspects to try to show that Iraq was somehow involved, Saddam Hussein‘s regime, in 9/11. 

Now, obviously, that would be a political purpose.  You start here.  If they use torture to get a political statement out of somebody to justify a war, that seems to me pretty damn serious. 

MCMAHON:  It‘s serious.  It may be indictable.  By the way -- 

MATTHEWS:  Because it has nothing to do with national security. 

MCMAHON:  Even the Republican appointee who wrote the political memo said you can only use enhanced techniques if there‘s an imminent threat to the United States and you need to use them to stop it.  There‘s not an imminent threat here.  There wasn‘t, in fact, an imminent threat in any of these cases.  This might actually be indictable, if it in fact occurred. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you think of that, Todd Harris?  What do you think of that report?  What do you think of the idea that Cheney‘s office asked for water boarding of people to try to prove that Iraq was connected to 9/11, to justify the war, after we got in there and found no WMD? 

HARRIS:  There‘s not a person at this table who knows whether that‘s true or not. 

MATTHEWS:  But if true? 

HARRIS:  Look, if true, then we can talk about it, but—

MATTHEWS:  That‘s not the standard here. 

HARRIS:  Right, right. 

MATTHEWS:  We had the reporter earlier this afternoon, which I wish you were privy to, as I was, that sounded pretty damn strong. 

We‘ll be right back with more.  Let‘s talk about the GOP strategy with Cheney, now that his name has come up.  What is he doing out there all over the place?  We‘ll be right back with the politics fix, and why is Dick Cheney in our face?  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I wish him well.  It‘s over.  But I wish him well.  It‘s over.  But I do hope he gets some more targets practice before he goes out again. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Bill Clinton, he‘s great.  He‘s still campaigning.  Look at him out there.  Anyway, that was—we‘re back with the strategists.  That was, of course, the inimitable Bill Clinton, still on the campaign trail, taking a shot at former Vice President Dick Cheney in response to Cheney‘s recent attacks on the Obama administration. 

He‘s the happy warrior, that guy.  Let me against you about this again.  I‘m going to drill your head.  I am a dentist on this one.  Former NBC News investigative reporter Bob Windrem reported today that Dick Cheney‘s office suggested water boarding on an Iraqi prisoner suspected of knowing about a relationship between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.  The man in charge of that interrogation, Charles Duelfer, told Windrem he thought the request was reprehensible and understood the rational was political. 

Your thoughts.  That‘s my report, just to back up what I said before.  Cheney was involved with getting some prisoner to be tortured to make Cheney‘s political point that we went to Iraq because of 9/11, which no one has ever been able to prove, including Cheney.  

HARRIS:  It‘s an alleged report and—

MCMAHON:  It‘s a real report. 

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  It‘s brand new today.  That‘s why I‘m hitting you with it. 

HARRIS:  If it turns out to be true, then—

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  Would you let him do this? 

HARRIS:  If it turns out to be true, it‘s a serious charge.  And luckily Dick Cheney is out and about very publicly, and he‘ll be able to defend himself. 

MATTHEWS:  Why do you think Dick Cheney‘s so public right now?  He has his daughter, who is a good person, obviously.  She is defending her father‘s record, defending the administration‘s record.  Why are they out as a family? 

MCMAHON:  The best defense is a good offense.  Dick Cheney is being now accused of a lot of things.  And if this report turns out to be true, I think it‘s going to get a lot worse for him, both politically—

MATTHEWS:  So you think it‘s point defense.  He‘s afraid the charge that he‘s abusing his authority as VP with regard to intelligence gathering and torture specifically.  So he‘s not out there to defend the Bush administration.  He‘s defending his own situation? 

MCMAHON:  I think he was the person who was the architect of a lot of this stuff.  He‘s defending both the Bush administration and himself.

MATTHEWS:  Why is the man who was behind the curtain for eight year, in the undisclosed location calling the shots—why is he out publicly flaking? 

HARRIS:  Because, look, I think—

MATTHEWS:  Too late.  Come back.  See you guys tomorrow at 5:00.  It‘s a fair opportunity here, if you have time.  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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