updated 5/19/2009 11:58:57 AM ET 2009-05-19T15:58:57

Guests: Pat Buchanan, Mike Isikoff, Rebecca Jarvis; Rep. James Clyburn, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, David Corn, Ron Brownstein, Jim Warren, David Corn, Bob Windrem>

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Problem with the Speaker.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

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

Uncertain trumpet.  Just how much damage did House Speaker Nancy Pelosi do to herself yesterday?  Her accounts of what she knew about waterboarding and when she knew it are so confusing, so ever-changing and so convoluted that she‘s made herself an easy target for Republicans and now for the CIA itself.

CIA chief Leon Panetta put out a statement today saying, quote, “Let me be clear, it is not our policy or practice to mislead Congress.”  Panetta said that Pelosi had been briefed truthfully and was told of the interrogation techniques that were used, thereby backing up the CIA case against her.  So what was the Speaker thinking?  Does she actually recall in real detail that briefing of seven years ago?  We‘ll debate that hot topic in a minute.

Also, as a candidate, Barack Obama opposed military commissions.  Now, as president, he‘s revived them, with some real restrictions.  Together with this decision this week to block release of those prisoner abuse photos, does this show that pressure from the right is having an effect in this debate over national security?  Pat  Buchanan and David Corn of “Mother Jones” magazine will debate that hot one right here.

Plus: Did Vice President Cheney encourage waterboarding of an Iraqi prisoner, not to protect our country but to make his case for the Iraq war, to establish some connection, bogus or otherwise, between Iraq and what happened to us on 9/11?  That is a very, very big story, if true, and we‘ll dig into it with former NBC News investigative producer Bob Windrem (ph).

And proof today an old story can have very long legs.  Karl Rove is answering questions, presumably under oath, from a prosecutor about the firing of those U.S. attorneys two years ago.  We‘ll get to that sugar plum in tonight‘s “Politics Fix.”

And finally, check out this priceless new anti-Obama attack ad from the RNC, the Republican National Committee.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  A courtside seat, $500.  Payback to your political cronies, $787 billion.  A cool new photo for your Web site, $328,000.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll have that one in the politics—HARDBALL “Sideshow” tonight.

But we begin with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.  Joining us now, South Carolina Democratic congressman and House majority whip James Clyburn.  Congressman Clyburn, let me ask you—I know you weren‘t there during the briefing, but now Leon Panetta, the head of the CIA, has said this is what happened in that briefing.

“The political”—Let me go through this.  This is his memo to the agency.  Let‘s read it right now.  “The political debates about interrogation reached a new decibel level yesterday when the CIA was accused of misleading Congress.  Let me be clear: It is not our policy or practice to mislead Congress.  As the agency indicated previously in response to congressional inquiries, our contemporaneous records from September 2002 indicate that CIA officers briefed truthfully on the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, describing the enhanced techniques that had been employed.”

So there you have former U.S. congressman, former Clinton budget director Leon Panetta saying on the record as head of the CIA that Nancy Pelosi was briefed back in 2002, briefed correctly as per the memorandum which were written at the time by the briefing officers, and that she was clearly briefed on the enhanced interrogation techniques—i.e.  waterboarding—that had been used—not that were approved or authorized, but had been used.

This is in direct contradiction to what the Speaker is saying.  What do you think?

REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D-SC), MAJORITY WHIP:  Well, you know, I‘ll tell what I think.  I think Nancy Pelosi is a woman of great integrity, great intellect, and I do not believe that she would intentionally attempt to mislead anybody.  And so when she made her statement the other day—I think it was yesterday—I read the statements put out by Senator Graham.  Now, Senator Graham, talking about those same—that same series of hearings, saying that he was told that he had been briefed four times.  Yet when he went back to his records that we all know he‘s famous for keeping, he found out that he was only briefed one time.  And when he got back to the CIA, they agreed that they had misreported and he had not been briefed three times when they said they had.

So I do believe that during that period of time, there was some kind of disconnect between the CIA and what they ought to have been doing, and so I think that Nancy Pelosi is absolutely correct in what she is saying.  And I think it‘s buttressed by what Senator Graham, who was on the Senate side, receiving the same briefings, had to say on today.

MATTHEWS:  But Porter Goss, who was the Republican chairman of intelligence at the time, who was in the room with Nancy Pelosi, when she was the congressman (SIC), as ranking Democrat on that Intelligence Committee—he confirms what the CIA is saying.  Leon Panetta, the former Democratic member from California—he‘s confirming what the CIA said.  Now it‘s Nancy Pelosi out there all alone.

Could it be that she doesn‘t remember what happened in that briefing?  Could that be true?  You said not intentionally misleading anybody, but how does anybody remember exactly what was said seven years ago unless they took notes?  And Nancy Pelosi doesn‘t say she took notes?

CLYBURN:  Well, as I understand it, you don‘t take notes in those meetings.  I‘ve been to only one.  And when I came out of that meeting and within five minutes, I had someone from another network asking me about questions that they should not have known that was taking place up in that meeting.  So I decided not to ever go into another one again, and so I have not.  And so I don‘t think she took notes in the meeting.

I do know this—the moment we came into power back in 2007, Nancy Pelosi put forth a piece of legislation to outlaw torture and to make sure that they follow in interrogations the field manual.  We passed that bill in the House.  It went over to the Senate.  The Senate passed the bill.  And President Bush vetoed it.  So Nancy Pelosi, when she had the power to do, so she put forth a frontal attack against torture, and I believe that demonstrates what her position is.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think we need a truth commission on what happened to intelligence?  We‘re getting a lot of information on the program tonight.  It‘s going to come further tonight, I know it‘s coming, about the role the vice president‘s office played back in those years of 2002, before the Iraq war, trying to use interrogations to try to prove the case for war ahead of time and thereafter, a political argument, not a national intelligence or a national security effort.

Do you think we need a truth commission to find out how the VP‘s office, Cheney in particular, used torture to get what he wanted done politically?  Do you think we need that commission?

CLYBURN:  Yes, I do, and I‘ve been advocating that for a long time.  And I do believe that Speaker Pelosi has advocated the same thing.  We ought to get this out of the politics.  We ought to get this off the front pages.  Get a commission such as the 9/11 commission that we had...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

CLYBURN:  ... or such as the Frank Church commission we had some years ago.  I knew Frank Church, and of course, I understand last night, you were accused of being a member of his staff but...

MATTHEWS:  No, it‘s not an accusation.  It‘s a...

CLYBURN:  ... I knew him.  He was a very good friend.  And I know...

(CROSSTALK)

CLYBURN:  ... that you were not a member of the staff.

MATTHEWS:  No, I worked for Ed Muskie, his colleague.

CLYBURN:  That‘s right.

MATTHEWS:  I worked for Ed Muskie.  He was another great senator.

CLYBURN:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about—the trouble is that what‘s good for the goose is good for the gander, as we used to say growing up.  And the question is, should Speaker Pelosi be impanelled as a witness under oath to that commission if this has—does take place?  Should the Democrats—

Joe Sestak, a member of Congress, your colleague, last night on this program said, yes, she would have to be questioned under oath, as other people are, about her complicity, if so, in any kind of torture policy.  Do you think she should be questioned under oath?

CLYBURN:  Well, I think that everybody—I think the vice president ought to talk about the role he played.  And what‘s wrong with Nancy Pelosi talking about what role she played in—as a member of that committee?  So I don‘t think she has a single thing to hide, and I do believe she would welcome such an opportunity.  And I would certainly like to see a commission appointed.

MATTHEWS:  Wouldn‘t it be great to see the vice president testify under oath without the president there, and the president without the vice president, unlike the way they usually like to do it?  Anyway, thank you, U.S. Congressman Jim Clyburn of South Carolina.

CLYBURN:  I would love to see it.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you, sir.

CLYBURN:  Thank you so much for having me.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s turn to Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn.  She‘s a Republican of Tennessee.  She‘s been on the show before.  Thank you, Congresswoman.  What do you make of this?  Let‘s read something—I want to read something to you, the lead of “The Washington Post” today, pretty strong language by one of the straightest reporters in the business, Dan Balz.

He writes, quote, “House Speaker Nancy Pelosi‘s extraordinary accusation that the Bush administration lied to Congress about the use of harsh interrogation techniques dramatically raised the stakes in the growing debate over the Bush administration‘s anti-terrorism policies, even as it raised some questions about the Speaker‘s credibility.  Pelosi‘s performance in the Capitol was either a calculated escalation of a long-running feud with the Bush administration or a reckless act by a politician whose word has been called into question.  Perhaps it was both.”

What do you make of that report by Dan Balz in “The Post” today, Marsha Blackburn?

REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN ®, TENNESSEE:  Well, Chris, I think that what Dan had to say in that is correct, in that it is an extraordinary accusation that she has made, especially when she‘s talking in terms of the CIA and saying that they lied in their recounting of this situation.

So the burden of proof now rests with her to prove her position and to defend what she is saying.  You know, we have had former congressman Goss, CIA director Goss, come forward and say, you know, That is not my recollection.  We also have heard from Leon Panetta today in the statement that you read at the top of the show.  And so it is an extraordinary measure that we are seeing play out.

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of former senator Bob Graham, who was chairman of the Intelligence Committee?  He was a real note taker, we all learned, almost notoriously so...

BLACKBURN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  ... in terms of the detail.  It was kind of funny, in fact, how many notes he kept during the day.  He says that he had only one briefing, and the CIA record books showed four briefings.  They later corrected themselves.

Could it be that they‘re not infallible?  And could it be that when Leon Panetta, now head of the CIA, is defending that agency, he‘s simply being a good boss?

BLACKBURN:  You know, I was listening to that.  That‘s the first time I had heard it, as you were talking with Congressman Clyburn about that, and I...

MATTHEWS:  We like to do those things on the show here.  We like to produce new evidence and new news.  But go ahead.

BLACKBURN:  Right.  And what it made me think about was the February 2003 briefing that Speaker Pelosi and Jane Harman—Congresswoman Harman were to have.  Congresswoman Harman attended and Ms. Pelosi sent one of her aides to that briefing, who later recounted it to Ms. Pelosi.

Now, what we could have had was a briefing where someone sent an aide instead of attending themselves.  And so I was wondering—I wondered if that could have possibly been a situation that had occurred there because we know that Speaker Pelosi was to have been in the February briefing, and we also know from that February briefing that Congresswoman Harman did write a letter of inquiry on some issues and that Speaker Pelosi at that point in time, in ‘03, did not make any further inquiries into that briefing.

MATTHEWS:  Congresswoman, we‘re going to have later in this show, I think, some very discouraging news about—well, a report, let‘s say that, it‘s an initial report that the vice president‘s office had something to do with encouraging very serious interrogation—in fact, enhanced interrogation—of a suspect to try to get some connection established between 9/11, what happened to us here on 9/11 of 2001, and the war in Iraq, with an obvious purpose of trying to establish a justification for the war in Iraq, not necessarily for pure security reasons.

Do you think we need some kind of a truth commission to get at all this stuff?

BLACKBURN:  Well, the first thing I think we do need is some type of investigative select committee or special committee to look at the allegations that have been made against the CIA and to look at what did or did not transpire in the intel committee.  And I think that that is going to be a necessary step for the intel committee to go through before we move forward to anything else.

I think that it is rather extraordinary that we have these comments from the Speaker, and then we‘re hearing other things from individuals that were involved, and also from Mr. Panetta today.

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much for joining us.  Have a good weekend, U.S. Congresswoman...

BLACKBURN:  Good to be with you, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  ... Marsha Blackburn...

BLACKBURN:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  ... of Tennessee.

Coming up: President Obama revives those Bush-era military tribunals for terror suspects out at Gitmo, with some real restrictions this time.  By the way, he had been against those tribunals during the campaign.  And now he‘s hearing it from the left, but is that a bad thing?  Maybe he has to have some fights with the left before this administration is through its next four or eight years.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  President Obama criticized the Bush administration‘s use of military tribunals for suspected terrorists when he was on the campaign trail last year, but now he‘s reinstituting them, those tribunals, with some serious revisions.  The move comes on the heels of the president‘s decision to continue former president Bush‘s fight to block the release of those prisoner abuse photos, and both decisions have drawn fire from the left, if some praise from the right.  So is President Obama right to revive those military tribunals?

Pat Buchanan‘s an MSNBC political analyst and David Corn is a Washington bureau chief with a huge bureau behind him...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  ... for “Mother Jones” magazine.  I‘m just kidding.

(CROSSTALK)

DAVID CORN, “MOTHER JONES”:  ... newspapers these days...

MATTHEWS:  I have a very small bureau behind me.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Just kidding!  (INAUDIBLE) guys.  Patrick, is it smart to have military tribunals?  Now, these are like the ones apparently used in that very small case of some German submariners that came in here and tried to blow up some stuff back in World War II...

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  ... a very unique case.  They‘re used against military prisoners.  Is this an appropriate way to try these guys?

BUCHANAN:  I think it is because these fellows are, they‘re not prisoners of war.  They‘re involved in acts of terrorism, you know, and they‘re not Americans like McVeigh.  And I think Obama has—look, he‘s backed off a little bit from what he said.  But he‘s the president of the United States.  He‘s facing some serious problems, and he looked at this, and this is the best option.

MATTHEWS:  What do you do with guys—these are men who we know are enemies.  They—they—they pray every day against us.  They swear at us.  They throw crap at our guards.  I‘m sure they let it be known pretty well they‘re our enemy.  Do you ever let them go?

DAVID CORN, “MOTHER JONES”:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  I mean, can you let go a guy who is going to immediately join up with al Qaeda, immediately start bombing us, start killing our guys?  What do you do with a guy who‘s a war—who really is an enemy of the country?

CORN:  That‘s a question separate from whether to use military commissions or not.  Military commissions are when you think you have a prosecutable case against someone, using different rules than you would in the federal court.  In the federal court, we were able to convict the blind sheikh who was behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombings, and of course, Zacharias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker.

MATTHEWS:  (INAUDIBLE) came back and tried to get the deposit on the rental truck.

CORN:  Well, nevertheless...

MATTHEWS:  How many people are willing to do—are stupid enough to do that?

CORN:  But we were able to use—put them into the federal system.  And the military commissions, also, we‘re talking about—the estimate now is between 10 and 20 people.  There are 241 guys in Guantanamo.  A lot will go into the federal system.  And the question is whether you use these—whether you...

MATTHEWS:  Can you make a case against these guys they rounded up over in Afghanistan and Iraq, or wherever they rounded them up?  They‘re clearly part of the enemy posse against us.

CORN:  Well, what do you...

MATTHEWS:  How do you know they...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  How do you prove a crime?

CORN:  Well, maybe they are...

BUCHANAN:  First of all...

CORN:  ... maybe they‘re not.  Some guys were picked up, we now know, innocently, and they were held for years.  So it‘s not that easy a call to say that just because they‘re suspects, they‘re guilty.

BUCHANAN:  Here‘s what you can do, Chris, and they haven‘t—if you get the Totenkampf SS, it is a criminal organization!

MATTHEWS:  Right.

BUCHANAN:  Membership in it constitutes a crime!

MATTHEWS:  OK...

BUCHANAN:  Membership in al Qaeda constitutes a crime!

MATTHEWS:  Is that right?

CORN:  Well...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Then what do you hold them for?  How many years?

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  You can hold them maybe five or ten years and...

MATTHEWS:  And then what do you do with them?

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Well, if that‘s the case, maybe you got to let them go then, but at least you got a crime...

MATTHEWS:  I agree with that.  I agree with that.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  My worry is you can put a guy away, and maybe time served as part of their defense.  You get a guy—they‘ve already been held five or seven years, these guys.  What do you do at the end of their terms, when the guy looks you in the face, thumbs his nose at you, says, I‘m going to go kill your brothers?

DAVID CORN, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, “MOTHER JONES”:  That‘s a hard call. 

But, you know, conspiracy to commit terrorism is actually kind of an easier crime to prove than proving even membership in al Qaeda.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Should they be treated as criminals or POWs, these guys? 

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  They‘re not prisoners of war under the Geneva Convention.

MATTHEWS:  Should they be treated as criminals?

BUCHANAN:  Look, they‘re—they‘re—I think they‘re enemy combatants and terrorists, but they‘re not POWs.  POWs are captured in uniform.

MATTHEWS:  And they‘re not criminals?

BUCHANAN:  They‘re not McVeigh.  They‘re not...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  ... here doing things on American soil.

(CROSSTALK)

CORN:  It is tricky, but what was wrong with the military commissions was, at the beginning, they had absolutely no due process.

MATTHEWS:  What were they doing to these people, the military commissions, before this election was held? 

CORN:  Well, they were trying to give them some trials, but the trials were completely... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But then what did they do with them? 

CORN:  Because—well, then the question is, well, you would sentence them, presumably, and put them in jail for five, 10, 15, 20 years to life.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But if you sentence a guy...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Chris, you have got to have—you have got to have military tribunals, because, look, you have got...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Suppose you got one of these guys who killed somebody and...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Wait a minute. 

(CROSSTALK)

CORN:  We have rules as...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  You got information—you got information from guys that are leaking right out of Obama‘s organization.  You go to trial, and the guy says, OK, where is your witness?  You can‘t do it.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Here is what the president says.  He wants to have nobody -

no evidence can be used in these criminal—these military tribunals from torture.

CORN:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  And no evidence that‘s hearsay. 

CORN:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  In other words, the general rules of a trial in a criminal case. 

BUCHANAN:  Right. 

CORN:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  They can pick their own lawyers. 

CORN:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  So, they‘re getting a lot of advantages here as—as rights. 

(CROSSTALK)

CORN:  These are big improvements over the existing system, but the system still has a fatal flaw.

And I think, in some ways, it‘s going to slow down justice, because the rules and procedures for these military commissions have been challenged from day one.  Say, discovery, how much discovery can you have? 

(CROSSTALK)

CORN:  And if the government is holding evidence that‘s exculpable, then what do you do with that? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, their lawyers are going to feed that—that information directly to the enemy.

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  You can‘t have the American court rules.  You can‘t have them. 

(CROSSTALK)

CORN:  It did work in Zacarias Moussaoui and...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What happens if you‘re a—what happens if you‘re a sharp lawyer, if you‘re a Johnnie Cochran, for one of these guys.

BUCHANAN:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  You‘re a sharp lawyer, Edward Bennett Williams...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... and you say, OK, I want all the evidence against my client.  OK.  You immediately put it on a—you Xerox it or whatever.  You send it right overseas to your enemy. 

(CROSSTALK)

CORN:  No, right now, there‘s something called the Classified Information Protection Act, which, in a criminal case in a federal court, you don‘t get classified information in the way that you can disseminate it that way.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Why not? 

CORN:  You have access to it.

MATTHEWS:  Once you have access to it, you go ahead and you dictate it.

CORN:  No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Look, look, Chris...

(CROSSTALK)

CORN:  It‘s—it‘s—you have—it‘s true that you...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Bottom line, bottom line...

(CROSSTALK)

CORN:  That‘s how they did Moussaoui and other cases.  There are provisions for dealing with classified evidence.

BUCHANAN:  The bottom line is, look, Barack Obama, his lawyers, they‘re able people.  They—they‘re moderate people.  They want to—and they have decided this is the best thing they got.

And I think you got to believe...

(CROSSTALK)

CORN:  They are loving this praise from Pat Buchanan. 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Well, look, I mean, these guys—look, I think they‘re interested in the security of the country and they‘re interested in human rights, and this is the best deal they got. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s get back to our strong terrain here, our best turf, our home turf. 

Is Barack Obama buckling to Cheney and other criticism by doing things like this, and not releasing those abuse photos from overseas? 

No, wait a minute. 

CORN:  No.

MATTHEWS:  Is this a pattern, where he‘s hearing the footsteps, politically?

CORN:  Well, I think it has been a good week for Dick Cheney, because you have these...

MATTHEWS:  You make my point.

CORN:  You have these decisions.  Now, I do believe...

MATTHEWS:  That Cheney is having an influence with his rearguard—his rearguard attack?

CORN:  I‘m not sure it‘s because of Cheney, although I‘m sure...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Then what is the pressure?

CORN:  Well, I think—actually, I think the pressure on the photos comes from the Pentagon. 

If you release those photos, then, the next day, there are stories out there saying that Petraeus and Odierno, you know, our—our top commanders, argued to keep the photos secret, that‘s a political problem, regardless of what Dick Cheney is saying about it. 

MATTHEWS:  Because he has to stay solid with those guys?

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Here is what‘s happening?

CORN:  So, he has to stay solid.  And he does...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I agree.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So, you think—you think there‘s pressure from the right for it.  Cheney is working here.

BUCHANAN:  Cheney—to some degree, it‘s working. 

But let me tell you, Afghanistan, he doubles down.  He‘s bombing Pakistan.  He‘s hanging on in Iraq.  You have got the photos.  You have got the military commissions, no commission investigating the torture stuff, no prosecution. 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  What Obama is, Chris, he‘s a pragmatic guy.  He says:  I may have talked left, but if I go out here on the left on all these issues, I‘m dead in four years. 

MATTHEWS:  You think he might be being backed into the war in Afghanistan, and all this other stuff we‘re talking about, the way Kennedy was backed into Vietnam? 

BUCHANAN:  I think the way—yes, I think, Kennedy, “I‘m not going to be a wimp,” I think that was part of it. 

MATTHEWS:  He was backed into it?

BUCHANAN:  Exactly. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s my problem, Pat.

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  And so was LBJ.

MATTHEWS:  If you fight a war without instinct, if he‘s fighting this war in Afghanistan and all this stuff we‘re talking about without instinct, he doesn‘t really have the blood rushing on this thing, I worry, because he may not...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  He doesn‘t—he doesn‘t like this war in Afghanistan.  He doesn‘t like this war in Afghanistan. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s dangerous, if you fight a war you don‘t believe in? 

(CROSSTALK)

CORN:  He‘s certainly committed to the importance of it and trying to get it right.  Whether he does get it right is another issue.

And I think, on the truth commission stuff...

MATTHEWS:  You sure he‘s not just backing up here? 

CORN:  Oh, I—listen, I think he wants to solve the problem.  I think he—think he knows that it‘s serious. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Would he have ever taken us into Afghanistan if he were president back in 2001?

CORN:  I don‘t think Al Gore would—well...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  No.  Would Barack Obama have gone to Afghanistan?

CORN:  Yes, there would have been an attack on some elements.

(CROSSTALK)

CORN:  He would not have gone into Iraq.  The problem was the detour into Iraq.

BUCHANAN:  I think he might have come out by now.  I think he might have come out of Afghanistan. 

Look, this guy was reluctant to double down. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

BUCHANAN:  He was pushed into doubling down in Afghanistan. 

MATTHEWS:  I smell the ‘60s. 

Thank you, Pat Buchanan. 

And I don‘t like the ‘60s in that way. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.

I like the other part of the ‘60s. 

Thank you, David Corn.

BUCHANAN:  None of it was any good, Chris. 

CORN:  Oh.

MATTHEWS:  Patrick, your side lost.

CORN:  Big time.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Up next:  The Republican National Committee take a swipe—takes a swipe at President Obama in a nasty new video—but we‘re going to watch it—while the president pays tribute to the champions of the world, the Phillies. 

The “Sideshow” is coming up next. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First up, how is this for a victory tour?  My hometown team, the Philadelphia Phillies, the world champions, showed up at the White House this afternoon for a personal congratulations from President Obama for their big World Series win last October. 

Per traditional, they presented the president with their won—or his own now Phillies jersey, a little loving for the City of Brotherly Love.  By the way, I will be up there tomorrow in Philly to speak to the 2009 graduates of Saint Joseph‘s University. 

Next up:  Political parties aren‘t known for their state-of-the-art Web videos, but this one from the Republican National Committee is a solid, if, of course, nasty, piece of work. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE AD)

NARRATOR:  A new best friend, $2,000.  A courtside seat, $500.  Payback to your political cronies, $787 billion.  A cool new photo for your Web site, $328,000.  Drowning your country in debt, priceless. 

There are some things your tax money shouldn‘t buy, but that‘s not going to stop them from trying. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  That was, of course, a spoof of those credit card ads for MasterCard.  I wonder, by the way, if sarcasm is what people want to hear right now.  Anyway, that‘s the best they have got. 

And, finally, a popularity contest, courtesy of the Republican—or, actually, courtesy, this time, of the “National Journal” magazine.  It surveyed a group of Republican insiders, asking which current governor in their party had—quote—“the brightest political future.”

So, who came out on top?  Here it is.  Number three, like a Miss America contest, Miss—number three on the list, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty.  Are they saying he‘s good and Pawlenty?  Number two, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, a light heavyweight good old boy we like having on the show.  And, number one, Louisiana‘s Bobby Jindal.  No surprise there.  He‘s young and he‘s got that star buzz, although I still wonder about that Tennessee Williams staircase he came walking past the other day. 

Now, who is not on the list?  If this is a 2012 preview of coming presidential attractions, where is Governor Sarah Palin?  They leave her in some snowdrift. 

Well, actually, that brings us to the topic of tonight‘s “Big Number.”  So, on that list of Republican governors with the brightest futures, according to the insiders, where does the Alaska governor rank?  Well, she‘s tied for seventh, seventh, with Mitch Daniels of Indiana. 

Sarah Palin, who shared recently the Republican presidential ticket, no more than seven months ago, is the seventh most popular governor in the Republican Party—tonight‘s kind of shrimpy “Big Number.” 

Up next: a new report that Vice President Dick Cheney‘s office, maybe he himself, ordered the water-boarding of an Iraqi prisoner who Cheney suspected might provide information of a link between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, sort of a way to sell the war—inside that bombshell in a moment. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

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REBECCA JARVIS, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Rebecca Jarvis with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks finishing lower for the day and lower for the week.  The Dow Jones industrials fell 62 points.  The S&P 500 shed 10, and the Nasdaq was down nine points. 

General Motors says it told 1,100 underperforming dealers today they will be eliminated by October of next year.  GM also says it plans to update about 470 Saturn, Hummer, and Saab dealerships on the status of those brands, which it plans to sell. 

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That‘s it from CNBC.  We‘re first in business worldwide—now back to

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Former NBC investigative producer Bob Windrem reports in “The Daily Beast” that Vice President Cheney‘s office suggested water-boarding an Iraqi prisoner suspected of knowing about a relationship between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, in other words, to bolster the case for war in Iraq. 

Bob Windrem joins us right now, along with “Newsweek” investigative reporter and MSNBC contributor Mike Isikoff, whose book “Hubris” is out in paperback.  He co-authored that book with David Corn.

Let‘s go, Bob, with this story.  What do you have to report about this role by the—role taken by the vice president‘s office in the interrogation of that Iraqi prisoner? 

BOB WINDREM, THEDAILYBEAST.COM:  Well, in April of 2003, Chris, one of the highest-ranking secret police officers in—in Saddam‘s security apparatus was arrested by the U.S., and there were interrogations that began almost immediately. 

He was believed to have information both on WMDs, specifically chemical weapons, and any nexus between the regime and terrorism.  And, as the interrogation moved on and reports were sent back to Washington to the vice president‘s office, a—someone in the vice president‘s office, according to Charles Duelfer, who wrote this in his book, or at least he wrote that someone high up in Washington, suggested that the interrogations were too gentle, and, in fact, suggested as well that enhanced interrogation techniques, particularly water-boarding, be used against this official. 

Now, Duelfer disagreed with this.  And, also, the CIA back in Washington disagreed, because they said the legal opinions that we all know about now only covered high-value detainees involved in al Qaeda.  And, so, there was no water-boarding. 

But it goes to the issue that, at this point in time—and this is after the war had begun and—and the “Mission Accomplished” has taken place—the vice president‘s office continually had an interest in the fine details of the interrogations that were going on in Iraq, among other places, as we now know. 

MATTHEWS:  So, in addition to doing a lot of effort to go over to the

to Langley, to the CIA, before the war in Iraq to try to make the case for war with Iraq, they now, after having gotten us into the war in Iraq—and this is the vice president‘s office—the vice president‘s office pushed to get proof that it was justified to go into Iraq. 

WINDREM:  Right. 

And what we‘re seeing at this point, according to intelligence officials I spoke to, was a great deal of interest in any one of a number of issues related to the war in Iraq, related to the—related to the—to al Qaeda attacks. 

I mean, one of the things I was told, for example, was that the vice president‘s office wanted to know everything that could be gleaned about the possibility of Mohamed Atta meeting an Iraqi intelligence official in Prague, a meeting that we now know never took place and has long been discredited.

But these are the sorts of things that they were interested in.  They were interested in that nexus.  They were interested as well in WMD, because, at this point in time, as well, the WMD search is now starting to falter. 

So, a lot of pressure was on them to move forward and to get answers on things that they had already used to justify the war. 

MATTHEWS:  Is this why, Mike Isikoff, the vice president is so scared of all this talk about investigating who approved the torture? 

Here is the vice president.  He was obsessed with this Prague meeting.  He‘s obsessed, as you know, with trying to prove that we went to war with Iraq because Iraq had something to do with attacking us on 9/11, never able to prove it, obsessed with this WMD, but mainly obsessed with getting us to go with a war with Iraq, and then after we got in there and could find no WMD, obsessed with this big fight with the CIA to prove that we went in there justifiably. 

It has to me the fingerprints or—let‘s put it this way—the M.O.  of the vice president himself. 

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  He was the one most obsessed with this Prague connection...

ISIKOFF:  Look, there‘s a...

MATTHEWS:  ... right or wrong? 

ISIKOFF:  Of course you‘re right.  There‘s a striking, almost eerie parallel, in the story of the use of these enhanced, aggressive interrogation techniques, water boarding, and the run up to the war in Iraq. 

It is in August of 2002 when the water boarding of Abu Zubaydah begins, after—with a strong push from the vice president‘s office.  That is precisely the time that the Bush administration is preparing to launch its case for the invasion of Iraq. 

Remember, it is right after Labor Day.  We don‘t start it—they don‘t start it until right after Labor Day.  They begin the push for the Congressional War Resolution, which is in October.  Abu Zubaydah, the guy who was the first candidate for water boarding, worked as part of the Culvan (ph) training camp in Afghanistan.  The emir of the Culvan training camp was Ibn Sheikh al-Libbi (ph), who was just in the news this week, because he ended up dead in a Libyan prison cell. 

It was Ibn Sheikh al-Libbi who, after being rendered to the Egyptians, provided the bogus intelligence about Saddam Hussein training al Qaeda operatives in chemical and biological weapons, a claim that was later cited by President Bush in a speech in Cincinnati in October 2002, and Secretary Powell in his presentation to the United Nations.  Ibn Sheikh al-Libbi, after he comes back into U.S. custody, recants that—

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  So we get him to say what we wanted him to say, so we could go into a war we wanted to go into, with no real evidence. 

ISIKOFF:  Right.  And here you have the guy who worked with Ibn Sheikh al-Libbi, who was being water boarded right at that same time.  It‘s a reasonable question.  I can tell you Senate investigators and others want to look at this.  Was the purpose behind the water boarding, or one purpose, to confirm the bogus claim by Ibn Sheikh al-Libbi and help justify the war in Iraq? 

MATTHEWS:  It seems to me, Bob Windrem—I know you‘re a reporter and have no opinions on this, but you do study this—that this suggests that a commission, were it to take place, would open up all these doors, not just to who ordered the torturing and whether it was justified or not by the circumstances, which were obviously dire, but whether the torture was, in fact, inflicted on people to make a political case for a war that had yet been decided upon, according to all the arguments of this president and his people. 

I‘m talking about Bush and Cheney.  They said they decided on the war based on the evidence.  Well, it seems to me that we‘re now seeing that they produced some of the evidence through torture. 

WINDREM:  Certainly, Chris, there is a ton of paper out there that we have not seen.  I mean, what we have seen is a very limited view of what was going on at that point.  We have not seen the interrogation logs, which lay out what actually happened in those interrogation rooms.  We have not seen the interrogation reports. 

We do not know what intelligence was produced by which particular enhanced interrogation techniques. 

We know very little.  If there‘s a truth and reconciliation commission or something called that or called like that, you are going to see that commission, as every commission we have ever seen exist, is going to go further and further and further into this issue, and going to be demanding more and more and more.  And ultimately what you‘re going to see is a lot of people, not just in the White House, not just in the CIA, but in Congress having had some enabling role in all of this. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  Let me ask you about the vice president‘s office.  The vice president of the United States, I go back to this, has no Constitutional executive authority.  He‘s simply there to replace the president, should he have to, and to preside over the Senate.  How did this vice president get operational control of the CIA? 

WINDREM:  Well, that‘s a good question.  I mean, certainly he is somebody who had roles in the Bush one and in the Ford administration, where he certainly had national security roles, very significant national security roles, as chief of staff in the Ford administration, and also as secretary of defense.  And I think essentially there was a devolvement of power within the White House—

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

WINDREM:  -- that led the Bush Oval Office team to grant some of this power to the vice president‘s office.  And, again, as you said, there‘s no Constitutional requirement for this.  There‘s nothing in the Constitution that permits this.  It doesn‘t forbid it.  But the reality is, I think, we had a devolution of power on this particular issue.  And because the vice president had all this experience, he accepted it and ran with it. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Never has a man had so much power and authority that wasn‘t elected president.  Thank you, Bob Windrem.  Thank you, Mike Isikoff.  Your book, “Hubris,” is out, co-authored by you and David Corn. 

Up next, Karl Rove gets interviewed by a special prosecutor in the investigation on-going of the firing of those US attorneys during the Bush administration.  That story has legs as well.  Will Rove or the other Bush administration officials face criminal charges?  Well, that‘s all speculation at this point.  But there he is once again being questioned, I assume under oath. 

The politics fix coming up next.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH, FMR. HOUSE SPEAKER:  Nancy Pelosi was the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee.  She had an absolute obligation to know what was going on, and she had an absolute obligation to speak up.  Men and women risked their lives all over this planet protecting us.  And she has now viciously and dishonestly turned on them.  It is despicable. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  There is the coup de grace from none other than former Speaker Newt Gingrich.  Joining us right now is Ron Brownstein.  He is political editor of the Atlantic Media.  And Jim Warren is a political analyst for MSNBC. 

Jim Warren, your thoughts on this.  When Newt Gingrich comes in and tries to put the prisoner out of his misery, you know that they figured they‘ve got something.  What do you make of this? 

JIM WARREN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, I think as interesting as what‘s coming off—coming at Pelosi from the right is what‘s coming at her from the left.  And there‘s a growing bipartisan derision, and, at minimum, befuddlement over some of her comments.  Press conference the other day was not a particularly impressive.  You obviously got folks at the CIA truly pissed off.  These are guys who take their jobs seriously.  And there‘s a sense that she‘s not being straight about what she heard in their presence. 

So, I think, there‘s some trouble afoot.  And again, it‘s less what‘s coming from the Newt Gingriches of the world than from some folks both in front of her back and behind her back on her own side. 

MATTHEWS:  To make an institutional charge is pretty dangerous against an agency that specializes in winning wars, CIA.  For her to go after and call them liars, in effect. 

RON BROWNSTEIN, “NATIONAL JOURNAL”:  She went well beyond saying there was a disagreement over memory.  The statement that Leon Penetta originally put out, in which he said, look, our logs said that we told you, but you‘re ultimately going to have to decide whether our logs are right.  She went well beyond on that to say they affirmatively misled me. 

Now, she—as Jim says, she has her own internal politics.  There‘s another dimension of it, which is that you have a significant portion of the left side of the Democratic caucus in the House that wants Obama to more assertively separate himself from all of the Bush era policies.  There‘s also skeptical of Afghanistan and Iraq and the way he‘s handling them. 

To some extent, she may be playing to that internal politics in the House.  But she has escalated this in a way that many Democrats outside of that kind of core and certainly in the White House believe is ultimately—

MATTHEWS:  Escalate‘s a great word from Vietnam.  Jim, what she did by attacking the CIA as an institution, forced the head of the CIA, her former colleague and friend in colleague, and maybe current friend, to say basically not only do we have notes of that meeting, which were contemporaneous and authoritative in that regard, but those notes say that she was told that we used the water boarding in the past tense.  Clearly nailing her 180 from what she‘s claiming. 

WARREN:  And I also think that in the White House there may be good deal more sympathy than one might suspect from a liberal Democratic White House toward the CIA.  I think there‘s undoubtedly a desire through Leon Panetta to if not prop them up over time, rebuild them as an institution, and rebuild their persona and reputation.  And I think that some of her charges may have less reflexive of sympathy there than a lot of folks out, you know—

MATTHEWS:  Could it be.  Let me try—let me try two speculations past you gentlemen.  One is that Speaker Pelosi does not recall in any detail a briefing that was seven years ago, in a totally different environment.  And that‘s possible, because she‘s only been reminded this by other voices.  The other possibility is that she does remember it and does remember they mentioned this torture kind of information, and she‘s embarrassed to admit that she could‘ve claimed to be have been complicit. 

Which is more likely to be the scenario?  My scenario would be that she doesn‘t remember in detail.  She‘s up against people who have memorandum that were written.  She had no written notes.  She‘s trying to make the best of a tough speculation. 

BROWNSTEIN:  Before speculating on her, just to be clear, the Panetta caveat is important.  What he‘s saying is their contemporaneous records show that she was told this occurred.  But, you know, it‘s ultimately up for Congress to decide whether those records are accurate.  So he is not unequivocally saying it happened.  He‘s saying as best we know from our records it happened.  You have to make the call.

I don‘t think we can speculate.  I think she‘s obviously moved beyond

--

MATTHEWS:  You have to because we don‘t have a good recollection from her. 

BROWNSTEIN:  Well, in fact, what I was going to say was she‘s moved—with what she said yesterday, she kind of removed the I don‘t have a recollection defense.  She‘s now affirmatively saying that she was actively misled, which relies on a recollection of the conversation. 

MATTHEWS:  The worst thing for a politician to engage in what we call rolling disclosure, where new information keeps coming out from the same source, and you wonder, why didn‘t wet get it the first time?  If the CIA absolutely misrepresented the situation and did say—according to her latest account, they said we‘re not using water boarding.  And she never said that the first couple of times around. 

We‘ll be right back with Ron Brownstein and Jim Warren to talk about what Karl Rove is up to.  He‘s in the docket again, under oath for the firing of those U.S. attorneys.  That story has legs.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Ron Brownstein and Jim Warren for more of the fix.  Speaking of the fix, Karl Rove back again by popular demand, being interviewed apparently under oath regarding the U.S. attorney firings of those eight U.S. attorneys.  What could be the crime he might be involved with here, either as a witness or in some way material to it? 

BROWNSTEIN:  First of all Karl Rove, Newt Gingrich, Dick Cheney; are “The Sopranos” back on the air too?  I feel like we‘re back in 2007.  Look, I think the focus of the investigation is primarily whether investigators in Congress were misled.  There‘s been accusations of a Hatch Act Violation.

MATTHEWS:  Which means federal employees can‘t be asked to do political stuff, or—

BROWNSTEIN:  Can‘t be asked to undertake political activities.  And certainly one of the prosecutors in New Mexico, who you‘ve had on your show, is arguing that he was removed because they believed he was not aggressive enough in pursuing charges against Democrats.  But largely, as in many cases in Washington, it is the accusation of the cover-up more than the underlying event, or as much as the underlying event. 

MATTHEWS:  Jim Warren, Karl Rove goes into the box again here. 

WARREN:  Yes, I mean the firings in 2006 is still a tremendous amount of murkiness about exactly what happened.  I think for the general public out there, one has to realize that there actually is a legal distinction between a normal political firings—I canned you just because you were of the other party—and improper political firings.  And the latter is what they‘re looking into now. 

As Ron suggests, I think the jeopardy here, likely, is less the substance of the firings than any possible false statements. 

MATTHEWS:  Excuse me for being hardened and cynical, but back in the Carter administration, which I served, Jimmy Carter, who I do like, fired David Marsden (ph) in Philadelphia in the middle of an investigation of some crooks in the Democratic organization in that city.  Was that a crime for him to fire that guy? 

WARREN:  Well, you know, being strict constructionists, the possibility is yes.  If the case that you could—that you try to make here is that there‘s something that goes beyond normal politics.  You‘re getting rid of a guy because you don‘t want him to do something in a particular case. 

MATTHEWS:  I think it goes more often than not.  Thank you, Ron Brownstein.  Thank you, Jim Warren.  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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