updated 5/26/2009 4:44:40 PM ET 2009-05-26T20:44:40

Guests: Pat Buchanan, Lawrence O‘Donnell, Jack Rice, David Axelrod, Elizabeth Edwards

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Good-bye Gitmo.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

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

Battle royale.  President Obama and ex-vice president Dick Cheney met as sunrise today for a morning debate on how to protect this country.  Cheney argued for torture, Obama against it.  Cheney justified the war in Iraq, the interrogations, the surveillance, all of it as necessary to defend the country and said the country was endangered by putting terrorists now at Guantanamo in federal prisons.

Here‘s the president defending his position to close Gitmo.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  As president, I refuse to allow this problem to fester.  Our security interests will not permit us to delay.  Our courts won‘t allow it, and neither should our conscience.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  But it took only minutes after the president‘s speech in which he warned of fearmongering on the matter for the former vice president to engage in the very thing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I think the president will find upon reflection that to bring the worst of the worst terrorists inside the United States would be cause for great danger and regret in the years to come.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, we‘ll score this morning‘s clash of war policies with Pat Buchanan, Lawrence O‘Donnell and with White House adviser David Axelrod.  This is going to be an exciting show.  Trust me.

Also, Elizabeth Edwards, wife of former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, will be here to talk about her husband‘s campaign last year and living with cancer.  By the way, her book is number one on “The New York Times” best-seller list.

We begin with the debate on national security.  Let‘s bring in MSNBC political analysts Pat Buchanan and Lawrence O‘Donnell and former CIA special agent Jack Rice.

Gentlemen, it‘s good to have you.  Let‘s take a look at the first debate.  Here‘s President Obama this morning, followed by Dick Cheney this morning, as well, on torture.  Let‘s look at them back-to-back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I know some have argued that brutal methods like waterboarding were necessary to keep us safe.  I could not disagree more.  As commander-in-chief, I see the intelligence.  I bear the responsibility for keeping this country safe.  And I categorically reject the assertion that these are the most effective means of interrogation.

CHENEY:  They were legal, essential, justified, successful, and the right thing to do.  The intelligence officers who questioned the terrorists can be proud of their work, proud of the results, because they prevented the violent death of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Pat Buchanan, he stuck his chin out for the punch.  He‘s defending torture.

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  He says it is not torture.  He said it was legal, essential, and it was hugely successful.  And he said, Barack Obama, this is righteousness—excuse me—this is recklessness posing as righteousness.  And his bottom line, Chris, is this.  You let out the memo saying what the techniques were, we used them on three people, and you will not release the information which tells the tremendous success they achieved.  He said it not only saved thousands but maybe hundreds of thousands of people.

MATTHEWS:  You believe Dick Cheney?

BUCHANAN:  I think that...

MATTHEWS:  You believe there is such a memo that justifies the torture, that shows productivity from the torture, even though everything we‘ve heard from experts is nothing new came from Zubaydah once they started waterboarding?

BUCHANAN:  My view is yes.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You believe it?

BUCHANAN:  Blair said it.  Tenet said it.  Cheney said it.  And he claims the documents say it, and Obama won‘t release the documents!

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go to that.  Lawrence O‘Donnell, your view?  Is this case won or begun here by Dick Cheney saying there‘s justifiable fruits that come from this torturing?

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, you know, since 9/11, one thing we know is believing Dick Cheney is a path to getting things wrong.  You know, we will be welcomed as liberators in Iraq after we find the weapons of mass destruction.

So listen, the Cheney logic is it was harmful to the nation to reveal any memos, any of these prior classified memos.  Cheney‘s solution to that harm done to the nation by releasing classified memos is Cheney wants to release more of them.  That is the twisted logic of this guy‘s approach.  It makes no sense.

Nothing he said today makes sense.  He creates his own definitions of what the problems are and then creates his own magical solutions for these problems.  If waterboarding was effective, why didn‘t we use it on the 75 people that the Bush/Cheney administration let out of Gitmo?  They let 75 out who‘ve gone back to terrorism.  Why didn‘t they waterboard those guys before they left and found out what their plans were?

This guy stood up there today on a day where—and by the way, he proudly announced in his speech that 14 percent of the people released from Gitmo are back in the business of terrorism, as if that‘s a Bush/Cheney administration accomplishment.  He doesn‘t even want to hide from that.  They‘re the people—Bush and Cheney are the people who let them out, let them go back to terrorism.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go to Jack Rice for, well, some umpiring here.  Did waterboarding work, as far as you know, with regard to Zubaydah and the other terror suspects, terrorists themselves?

JACK RICE, FORMER CIA SPECIAL AGENT:  Very simply, Chris, no.  You can look at the 2005 Justice Department memo itself.  Zubaydah was waterboarded.  He was tortured 83 times in a month.  No actionable intelligence whatsoever.  There are alternatives to this, and they chose not to use any of those, and those actually worked versus what the torture question is.

But you know, let‘s look at the bigger question for just a second.  When you listen to what the vice president is saying, it‘s fascinating to me because when I think about him, I don‘t think about transparency, number one.  But number two, now, all of a sudden, what he‘s saying is, Now that I‘m not in a position to actually release all of this information, now I want it released.  It‘s extraordinary.

MATTHEWS:  I have to say that the man best known for the undisclosed location isn‘t the guy I would go to for the whole truth and nothing but.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Let me...

BUCHANAN:  You‘re talking transparency.  You have Blair making this statement.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

BUCHANAN:  You have Tenet making it.  You have Cheney making it.  And you have the documents.  Now, surely, Barack Obama has the authority to release them.  If they show nothing came out of it or little came out of it, release them, for heaven‘s sakes, and undercut the case.  They‘re not doing it for a reason, Chris, and the fact that they‘re not releasing that suggests that Cheney is telling the truth.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let‘s hear Dick Cheney speak for himself right here from this morning‘s debate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHENEY:  When the soul-searching was done and the veil was lifted on the policies of the Bush administration, the public was given less than half the truth.  The released memos were carefully redacted to leave out references to what our government learned through the methods in question.  Other memos laying out specific terrorist plots that were averted apparently were not even considered for release.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Lawrence?

O‘DONNELL:  Chris, there‘s a provision in the classification system that says you specifically cannot release information that includes what you obtained in interrogations.  That is specifically what should not be released in declassification.  Cheney knows it.  The Bush/Cheney administration enforced that particular provision and championed it.

But look, pay attention to the logic of this.  The guy says that releasing this classified information, as much as has been released so far, is harmful to the safety of Americans, and his solution to that is to release more.  Pay attention to the twisted logic of this mess.

MATTHEWS:  But you know, Lawrence, for years, Released the tapes, and battle cries like that, and Pat‘s cry tonight...

O‘DONNELL:  Hey, Chris, I‘m in favor...

MATTHEWS:  ... they inevitably lead to the next...

O‘DONNELL:  I would like...

MATTHEWS:  ... (INAUDIBLE) in the news story, which is we get the information.  America generally doesn‘t clam up for long.

O‘DONNELL:  Listen, I would like to release it all.  I would like to release it all.  I‘m not going to sit here and tell you the government has released a piece of paper which is harmful to American safety.  But that guy is.  That guy leads off with, This administration is releasing memos...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

O‘DONNELL:  ... that are harmful to the safety of the United States, I would now like him to release more.

MATTHEWS:  Jack, is there a rule that says...

O‘DONNELL:  That‘s Cheney.

MATTHEWS:  ... we can release information about torture but not its results?  It seems like the barn door has been open for a while here and the cows are out.  What do you say?

RICE:  Of course, they could release it if they so choose.  They could have done it during the Bush administration, and the Obama administration could do it, too.  And frankly, they should.  Transparency is a very good thing.

You know, Chris, if I could take you on the inside of the CIA—when I was working for them, that was one of the problems that I saw there, was there was this overwhelming desire to classify and overclassify just about everything that they could.  And the ultimate result is that the only things that the American people would see are essentially the failures.  The successes they would never hear about.  If there are successes, if there are failures, either way, left or right, I don‘t care.  Let‘s take a look and see what they are.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let‘s—did you like being in the CIA?  I wonder why you‘re talking now.  I thought nobody talked once they were a spook.  What‘s going on here with you?

RICE:  Actually, I was—when I left—you open up, and that‘s actually the phrase.  I sat down in a room, and we created my life that said you can say this, you can say that and you can say the other.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

RICE:  So as a former prosecutor—but let me add one last point here, and this is the one I do find pretty incredible, as well.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

RICE:  If you look at what Dick Cheney said overall, he ultimately is treating the Constitution like My Lai in Vietnam.  I mean, he‘s saying, We had to destroy it in order to protect it.  I mean, think about what this guy‘s saying right now!

BUCHANAN:  Well, you know...

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s get to today‘s debate, which is what to do with the prisoners now at Gitmo.  Here‘s President Obama on what to do with those prisoners that we can‘t prosecute.  This is the tricky one, by the way.  These are the people you can‘t make a criminal against, but you know they‘re the enemy of the United States from everything they‘ve said and everything they‘ve been involved with.  But you can‘t make a case.  You got to do something with them.  This is the group that I‘ve always wondered about.  Here he is answering that question, the president, this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  If and when we determine that the United States must hold individuals to keep them from carrying out an act of war, we will do so within a system that involves judicial and congressional oversight.  And so going forward, my administration will work with Congress to develop an appropriate legal regime that our efforts are consistent with our values and our Constitution.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Lawrence on this one.  There‘s more scare tactics than I can count.  Adding to Cheney this morning about what mayhem we‘re going to face by putting some of these detainees in our prisons—which already have a million people in them, adding a few more in top security prisons—I don‘t know what we‘re afraid of.  We‘ve got Sirhan Sirhan 41 years out there in California with you.  He hasn‘t gotten out.  He‘s the first terrorist.  He killed Bobby Kennedy because he didn‘t like his Middle East policy.

Here‘s—I got to tell you, I‘m thinking of bad names to call Michael Steele because I don‘t know what to say about this guy tonight.  Here‘s what he said.  He‘s accusing—this is tonight‘s story—the president of the United States of, quote, “allowing terrorists into the United States.”  That‘s the way he phrased shifting these prisoners to top security prison, supermax prisons you can‘t get out of, nobody‘s ever gotten out of.  And he is, in this cheap shot here, making it sound like we‘re releasing these bad guys into the streets of America.

It is as close to a lie as I can think of in the way he‘s worded this. 

What do you make of it, Lawrence?

O‘DONNELL:  Absolutely...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Everybody‘s fearmongering, you know, like we don‘t have prisons loaded with dangerous people already in this country, that we don‘t have 20,000 murders in this country every year.  We live in a dangerous country to start with, and we‘ve had it under Republican administrations, as well as Democratic administrations.  Your thoughts?

O‘DONNELL:  Exactly.  And it shows you the bankruptcy of their notions about how to even talk about this.  It goes to Cheney‘s point today, saying, you know, if you bring them to the United States, suddenly, the American taxpayer will be paying for these people, as if the American taxpayer isn‘t paying for every one of the people at Gitmo right now.

It‘s just breathtaking, how stupid they can be in the way they talk about this.  And Pat Buchanan, I guess, is the only guy left in America who believes these people when they talk.  To believe Dick Cheney on this subject, when for credibility...

(CROSSTALK)

O‘DONNELL:  ... when for credibility, Dick Cheney goes to George Tenet, who—George Tenet, who said it was a “slam dunk” that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  ... rerun the whole tape back, Lawrence.

O‘DONNELL:  Those are the people you want to believe, Pat?

(CROSSTALK)

O‘DONNELL:  Hey, Pat Buchanan, do you believe George Tenet?

MATTHEWS:  We don‘t do ad hominems here.

BUCHANAN:  Lawrence, let me...

MATTHEWS:  Pat is allowed to speak his mind without anybody rubbing his rap sheet into his face here.  Go ahead.

BUCHANAN:  Let‘s talk about anybody who‘s so stupid as to oppose bringing these guys into American prisoners—into American prison.  How about Harry Reid and 89 senators, including the vast majority of the Democratic Party, who said, You‘re not bringing them into the United States of America?

MATTHEWS:  You know what?  Didn‘t the president say...

BUCHANAN:  Not into my state!

MATTHEWS:  ... why they were afraid to do that?  Because they‘re afraid of the 30-second ad that‘s going to be run against them by any joker who runs against them next time and says, You brought those prisoners into our state, and it‘s your fault.

BUCHANAN:  But Lawrence has already told you I‘m the only guy that believes that, Chris.  The ads won‘t work against these heroic senators...

(CROSSTALK)

O‘DONNELL:  No, you‘re the only guy who believes...

BUCHANAN:  Not in my state, Buddy!

O‘DONNELL:  ... Dick Cheney and George Tenet.

BUCHANAN:  Not in my state!

(CROSSTALK)

O‘DONNELL:  ... cited George Tenet here today.  For your own credibility, for Cheney‘s credibility, he cited George Tenet, the most disgraced director the CIA has ever had, George Tenet...

(CROSSTALK)

RICE:  It also shows, though, that Democrats can pander just as well as Republicans can when it comes to this issue.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you!

RICE:  They‘re pandering just as well.

MATTHEWS:  Jack, you have—you are—again, you are a voice of reason here, but you‘re right.  They can pander.  And by the way, Harry Reid and the rest of them are just as scared of reelection as anybody else.

Let‘s go to this—Pat Buchanan, Lawrence O‘Donnell—this is the billing for later in the show, I‘m using you guys to bill yourself...

BUCHANAN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  ... and Jack Rice are all staying with us.  They‘ll all be back for the “Politics Fix” tonight as we examine the political aspect of that highly political duel this morning between Barack Obama, our president, and Dick Cheney—and I must put in this adjective—our former vice president—because he‘s ours again.

Coming up, we‘re going to hear from President Obama‘s senior adviser, David Axelrod.  He‘s coming here in one minute.  Then we‘ve got Elizabeth Edwards later in the show.  Things are popping here at HARDBALL tonight—you‘re watching it—only on MSNBC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I believe with every fiber of my being that in the long run, we also cannot keep this country safe unless we enlist the power of our most fundamental values.

CHENEY:  The danger here is a loss of focus on national security and what it requires.  I would advise the administration to think very carefully about the course ahead.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Those who argued for these tactics were on the wrong side of the debate and the wrong side of history.  That‘s why we must leave these methods where they belong, in the past.  They are not who we are.  They are not American.

CHENEY:  To completely rule out enhanced interrogation in the future is unwise in the extreme.  It is recklessness cloaked in righteousness and would make the American people less safe.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  On a day of dueling national security speeches, one from President Obama and one from his sharpest critic, former vice president Dick Cheney, here‘s White House senior adviser David Axelrod.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  David, as you know, Vice President Cheney waited for President Obama this morning to finish his speech, and here‘s the first thing Dick Cheney said when he took the podium.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHENEY:  Good morning.  Or perhaps good afternoon.

(LAUGHTER)

CHENEY:  It‘s pretty clear the president served in the Senate and not in the House of Representatives because, of course, in the House, we have the five-minute rule.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  David, what do you think of that pomposity by the former vice president, making fun of the president of the United States for holding him up this morning?  And of course, the president had a 10-page speech.  I noticed that Dick Cheney had a 16-page speech.  But to mock the president as his first move—what do you make of that?

DAVID AXELROD, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISER:  Well, first of all, that

was the irony, of course, is that having made that comment, he went on for

at extraordinary length to try and defend the policies of the past, and so it was kind of odd.

But look, Chris, I think the American people understand that these are issues of gravity, and I think they appreciate that the president has thought them through and wanted to share his thoughts with the American people.  That‘s what they‘re looking for.

So even if it‘s not—I don‘t think that the vice president had much of an interest in what the president had to say, but the American people do, and that‘s who this president works for.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think he was being a wiseguy right up front?  I‘m serious.

AXELROD:  I mean, obviously, it was a joke.  It was a bad joke, but it was a joke.  And it was not very—it wasn‘t very tasteful and it was kind of silly, given the fact that he had a tome in front of him that went on for 16 pages.

But it‘s immaterial.  Look, these are hugely important issues, and so I don‘t want to get caught up on whether the vice president is—his stand-up routine works or not.  That‘s not the issue.  The issue is whether we‘re going to move the country forward, and that‘s what the president was concerned about.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s move forward.  The vice president today called for the president to release the—what he called the redacted portions of that memorandum on torture, where he says there‘s evidence there on the record that these were beneficial to our intelligence.

Will the president release the redacted portions of those intelligence

or, rather, those interrogation memoranda? 

AXELROD:  Look, the president is—is releasing everything that is consistent with our national security, in consultation with the—the related agencies, and he will continue to do that. 

The vice president seems to be obsessed with a relitigation of the past.  You know, they had a debate within their own administration about this that he lost, and he wants to continue that debate.  The president—he‘s defending his legacy.  The president wants to defend this country, its values and its security.  And that‘s the business that he‘s engaged in now. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, on that point, here is Dick Cheney saying that the president, President Obama, reserves the right, the authority, to order torture. 

Here he is, the former vice president, saying that the president has this right.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD B. CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Yet having reserved for himself the authority to order enhanced interrogation after an emergency, you would think President Obama would be less disdainful of what his predecessor authorized after 9/11.  It‘s almost gone unnoticed that the president has retained the power to order the same methods in the same circumstances. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Is that true, David? 

AXELROD:  The president—look, the president issued an—an executive order banning torture. 

As he said in his presentation, he doesn‘t believe that this is the most effective way to get the intelligence we need.  He—he thinks it‘s inconsistent with our values and our interests and, ultimately, makes us less safe.  And that is his—and that is his position.

And, you know, again, this—this was almost the sole focus of the vice president‘s speech.  And it was a little bit bewildering.  But that‘s his business. 

I thought the president laid out a very reasoned speech to the American people about why he took the decisions he‘s taken and about where we have to go to clean up the mess that we have in Guantanamo and to preserve our values and our security. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, is it your understanding that President Obama reserves the right to use enhanced interrogation methods if we‘re in an emergency situation?  Is that your understanding?

AXELROD:  I...

MATTHEWS:  According to the former vice president, that is what the vice—that is what the president has said on the record. 

AXELROD:  I think the president has made clear his feeling about—about those tactics with his executive order. 

The president is going to do everything that he needs to do to keep this country safe.  And—and, you know, I think he‘s been clear about that.  The American people should be clear about that.  And this, to me, is a side issue. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

Let‘s take a look at what President Obama said this morning at the National Archives, when he talked about fear-mongering, especially, I think, with regard to the effort to try to relocate these prisoners now at Guantanamo. 

Here is the president this morning on that topic. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  And we will be ill served by some of the fear-mongering that emerges whenever we discuss this issue. 

Listening to the recent debate, I have heard words that, frankly are calculated to scare people rather than educate them; words that have more to do with politics than protecting our country. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, yesterday, the U.S. Senate voted 90-6 against paying for the—the breaking down of Guantanamo.  And, of course, these senators were scared to death they might have prisoners brought to their states. 

I guess that‘s the message here.  The vice president played to that.  He sang that song today as loud as he could, saying that there‘s a threat here that we will use taxpayer dollars to support those prisoners who are relocated in what he called the homeland. 

Is he contributing to that fear that we might have prisoners in these maximum security prisons somehow able to have three squares a day, barbells, and movies, at taxpayers‘ expense?  It seems like that‘s what he‘s playing to. 

AXELROD:  Look, I think the politics of it are pretty clear, Chris. 

It‘s also true that, if you try and convict terrorists, you‘re going to put them in prison.  We have done that.  There are hundreds of convicted terrorists in American prisons right now.  So, it‘s up to the vice president to explain why this would be—why this would be different. 

I think, as the president pointed out, one of the noteworthy things about Guantanamo Bay is that there were only three successful prosecutions out of—out of there over all those years. 

Our goal is to process these people, to try as many as possible, to put them in prison, and—and to keep them secure.  And—and—and why one would want to stand in the way of that, I don‘t know. 

MATTHEWS:  Is there any doubt that, if we put one of these prisoners when we have convicted them of a serious crime in a supermax prison, is there any danger that they would be able to escape into the countryside, into the homeland? 

AXELROD:  Well, if they did, they would be the first, Chris. 

I think the president pointed this out.  I don‘t believe there‘s been an escape from a supermax prison ever.  So, I think it‘s a little unrealistic to think that this is a real threat. 

And it‘s unfortunate if there are those who want to play on that sentiment.  But it‘s real.  It‘s politics.  The president spoke to it today. 

And I think one of the goals he had in the speech was to put this

whole thing in perspective and lift it out of sort of the morass that it

can easily sink into.  And this is one of those issue that—that—that

that threatens to do that. 

MATTHEWS:  Is it harder to turn the Senate around, now that the vice president has weighed in on this?  I mean, Dick Cheney today seemed to be going right to the vein here of the threat somehow people feel, that they are personally endangered by having these terrorists in maximum security prisons, supermax prisons. 

The vice president played to that again today.  Is it going to make it harder to reverse that Senate vote yesterday? 

AXELROD:  You know, I—I don‘t think too many people are—are marching behind Dick Cheney.  I don‘t think Dick Cheney—I think Dick Cheney is a guy who is trying to defend his own legacy, the legacy of the past, rekindling debates that he lost even within his own administration. 

I don‘t think that‘s the issue.  Look, I ultimately believe and the president believes in the American people and their good sense.  What he did today was do—he did what he has done throughout his presidency, and before, which is to talk to the American people sensibly, to talk to them as adults, to—to trust them with the truth. 

He‘s going to continue doing that.  And I think the American people

will respond to that.  So, we will take our chances.  There are those who

may think they can manipulate the American people through fear and—and -

and scare tactics.  The president has a different view.  That‘s the way he‘s always conducted himself.  That‘s the way he‘s going to continue to conduct himself.

MATTHEWS:  Is Dick Cheney one of those? 

AXELROD:  Well, I—I think you saw the speech, and you can draw your own conclusions.  And it sounds like maybe you have. 

I don‘t think that that was a—I think that was a—a—a divisive speech.  And I think it was intended to be.  And that‘s unfortunate.  These are difficult issues.  The president himself said that some of the decisions that were made after 9/11 were not the right decisions, but they were made under the pressure of a catastrophe and in an environment of fear.

And, so, he—you know, he wasn‘t relitigating that.  The vice president seems to want to.  And I don‘t know that that profits the country. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, David Axelrod, senior adviser to President Obama.  Thank you, sir.

AXELROD:  Good to be with you, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Up next: the HARDBALL “Sideshow” and a “Big Number” that underscores just how eager Dick Cheney was to criticize and basically mock President Obama. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Time now for the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”

Up first:  Rod Blagojevich, the former governor of Illinois, appeared on “The Today Show” this morning.  Now, B-Rod has never met a camera he didn‘t love, so it was kind of shocking when he took issue with being called a celebrity. 

Check this out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE TODAY SHOW”) 

ROD BLAGOJEVICH (D), FORMER ILLINOIS GOVERNOR:  Neither one of us are celebrities.  I prefer to be compared to people like Teddy Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman and others in history, not some of these comparisons. 

I have been wrongly accused.  I will be vindicated.  I will prove my innocence. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow, Truman and Roosevelt.  Instead of trying to star in a reality show, I think Blagojevich needs a reality check?

Now it‘s time for the “Big Number.” 

We have been covering today‘s duel between President Obama and former Vice President Dick Cheney.  If you watched the Cheney appearance live, you saw that it didn‘t take long for him to deride the president personally.

How long did it take for former Vice President Dick Cheney to take a cheap whack at President Obama?  Well, you watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHENEY:  Good morning—or perhaps good afternoon. 

(LAUGHTER)

CHENEY:  It‘s pretty clear the president served in the Senate, and not in the House of Representatives, because, of course, in the House, we have the five-minute rule. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, it took Dick Cheney all of five seconds to deliver his cheap shot at the new president. 

You might wonder where this guy gets off.  He‘s telling that audience that he‘s miffed that the president of United States kept him waiting. 

No class, Mr. Cheney.  It took you just five seconds to show it—our “Big Number” tonight, five seconds. 

Up next:  Elizabeth Edwards, wife of John Edwards, will be with us to talk about her new book, which is now the number one bestseller on “The New York Times” list, and what she thinks of the job that President Obama is doing right now as president. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHARON EPPERSON, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Sharon Epperson with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks tumbling after Standard & Poor‘s warned it may lower the United Kingdom‘s top-level AAA credit rating, which triggered fears the U.S. could lose its AAA rating.  The Dow dropped almost 130 points.  The S&P 500 fell 15 points, and the Nasdaq dropped 32. 

First-time jobless claims fell last week, but the number of people continuing to receive unemployment benefits set a record for the 16th straight week, rising to 6.7 million. 

Meantime, the index of leading economic indicators rose in April, for the first time in seven months. 

Troubled insurance giant AIG announced chairman and CEO Edward Liddy plans to step down once replacements are found.  He assumed those roles last September, at a salary of $1 a year. 

And oil prices retreated from a six-month high.  Crude fell 99 cents, closing at $61.05 a barrel. 

And that‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—back to

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Elizabeth Edwards has written a new book called “Resilience,” which seems to be a great title for it.  It talks about her serious health challenge she‘s now facing, and it‘s also—as has been well-reported, of course.  It also addresses something else that has been well-reported, her husband‘s infidelity, which he informed her of in the days after he announced his campaign for president back in December of 2006. 

Elizabeth Edwards, my pal, here you are on our show. 

ELIZABETH EDWARDS, WIFE OF FORMER SENATOR JOHN EDWARDS:  Nice to see you.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I want to play something for you.  It‘s something you said on HARDBALL—I know you have got a steel-trap memory—back...

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  ... in January of last year. 

EDWARDS:  All right. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s listen to Elizabeth Edwards. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, JANUARY 2008)

EDWARDS:  We have fought very hard for civil rights and women‘s rights.  What we fought for is so that it wouldn‘t make a difference that we were a woman or that we were an African-American. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

EDWARDS:  It shouldn‘t make a difference.  It—we‘re not allowed now to say, I‘m sorry, it makes a difference to me.  I get—I get to—that‘s what we fought for, for it to make no difference whatsoever. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

Do you think we‘re there? 

EDWARDS:  I hope...

MATTHEWS:  Where we‘re colorblind? 

EDWARDS:  Not yet. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  There you are.  I don‘t know if you‘re embarrassed by this.  You were complaining that you got a husband who is a white guy, and he‘s being zeroed out by a woman candidate for president and an African-American candidate for president.  And you were basically arguing that your guy was boring white-bread, and that‘s why he wasn‘t getting anywhere. 

That was your argument.

EDWARDS:  And what was your question? 

(CROSSTALK)

EDWARDS:  You only got my...

(LAUGHTER)

EDWARDS:  You only got my answer in there, which...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Are you still of the belief that John Edwards, your husband, lost the presidential race because he wasn‘t interesting enough, ethnically or gender wise, to be a candidate in an exciting year? 

EDWARDS:  No.  No, I—no, I think that—I think that there was a lot of excitement about—about the fact that we had a woman candidate, a legitimate excitement about that, a lot of legitimate excitement about having an—having an African-American candidate for president, and—and now, of course, an African-American president.  And there‘s still an enormous amount of excitement about that.  But...

MATTHEWS:  Well, did he get ignored?  I‘m asking you, did he get sort of lost in the pack?

EDWARDS:  It wasn‘t—it certainly wasn‘t—I mean, if I were a journalist, that wasn‘t the—John wasn‘t the juicy story. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

EDWARDS:  You know, that‘s perfectly clear. 

But I think his policies, you know, pretty progressive policies, kept him in the—in the debate. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s take a look at John Edwards down at—this is one of my favorite things to do on this show.  We haven‘t done one in a hill.  We were down at Chapel Hill, the southern part of heaven, where you live...

EDWARDS:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  ... where I went to grad school, at the University of North Carolina campus, which is spectacular. 

And it‘s just about—right before John announced for the presidency. 

This was in December of 2006.  But the weather, as always, was mild...

EDWARDS:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  ... and almost perfect. 

Here he is, and then I‘m going to show you two together, just to recap some history. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, DECEMBER 12, 2006)

JOHN EDWARDS (D), FORMER U.S. SENATOR:  Well, I said running before makes you focus on something different...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

J. EDWARDS:  ... instead of focusing on how the crowds respond to you and whether everybody seems to love you—that‘s not the test for being president.  The test for being president is are you the best person to occupy the Oval Office and be the leader of the free world, because literally the future of the world is at stake.  This is not about popularity and excitement. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, you know, there‘s John Edwards talking about how he doesn‘t want to get caught up in it.  And he did get caught up in it, didn‘t he? 

EDWARDS:  Some. 

MATTHEWS:  Celebrity. 

EDWARDS:  No—

MATTHEWS:  Politicians get elected.  They think they‘re big deals. 

EDWARDS:  John is the first person who says that.  He said that about himself.  He said it‘s a real disease.  And he, you know, was trying to purify himself of that sense of entitlement.  You earlier were talking about Rod Blagojevich and his—

MATTHEWS:  His narcissism. 

EDWARDS:  Right.  And clearly that‘s an impediment to a lot of things and perhaps a trap for others. 

MATTHEWS:  Because, you know, just to get away from your family situation, which I don‘t want to get into it, because who understands anybody‘s marriages anyway.  But just as a fact, there has been history about this.  The number of freshmen U.S. Congress people, men, who get divorced within the first term used to be incredibly high, and it probably still is.  Because they get up here from down there or anywhere—down here from up there, and they get surrounded by young, good looking staff people that think they‘re great.  And then they got to go home to their wife who knows they‘re not.  It‘s a lot more fun being at work. 

EDWARDS:  Yes.  And, you know, when I worked, sometimes I felt that way.  And nobody at my work asked me to empty the dishwasher or to be the one to pick up the kids at school in the middle of the day.  And marriage is hard work.  So I‘m not surprised particularly for Congress—members of Congress, who are here for two years.  And maybe it‘s not worth making the financial investment and moving an entire family to Washington.  So you also have the problems of distance. 

MATTHEWS:  Tip O‘Neill always said, my old boss, bring your family to Washington. 

EDWARDS:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Of course, Newt Gingrich said keep it at home, because it‘s better politics, but it‘s not good for marriage.  Here is another clip from you together with him, you and John together, Senator Edwards together, also on our program here. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

J. EDWARDS:  I think it‘s very important for anybody who is considering running for president, instead of thinking about being a candidate, to think about actually occupying the Oval Office, the difficult decisions that have to be made, and how they would go about making those decisions, and believing that they have the judgment to make them. 

MATTHEWS:  And you‘ve got it? 

J. EDWARDS:  That‘s something I‘m in the process of deciding right now. 

MATTHEWS:  But a preliminary decision—

J. EDWARDS:  Do I think I have the qualities to be president?  Yes, I do. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Working on having a judgment.  Here you are.  I believe we have a clip of you two together.  We don‘t.  We don‘t have it.  Do you think he had the judgment? 

EDWARDS:  Obviously, his private judgment was not particularly good, but his public judgment—I have tried to tell all the people who worked on this campaign or donated to John‘s campaign that they actually did a great thing, that his campaign set the standard with respect to health care, set the standard with respect to environmental goals, talked about poverty in a way that no one else was. 

He pushed candidates to real progressive positions that we are now talking about as possibilities, and they need to be proud of that. 

MATTHEWS:  Your book is “Resilience,” number one on the “New York Times” best-seller list.  Number one next week.  It will stick up there for a while.  I bet.  By the way, do you think we‘ll get a health care bill this year? 

EDWARDS:  I think we will.  A little worried it might not include a private—a public provider, basically a government insurance choice for Americans.  I think that‘s a really important piece that will keep those private insurers honest. 

MATTHEWS:  I think it is going to have an NGO piece.  It won‘t quite be government.  It will be like the government employees program.  It‘s going to be something like an NGO, a nonprofit, but I think we‘re going to get something like that, in between. 

EDWARDS:  That would be great. 

MATTHEWS:  I think it might be a great start.  I‘m all for health care.  There‘s a lot of people that don‘t have it. 

EDWARDS:  I agree. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Elizabeth Edwards.  Good luck with everything.  You‘re a great person.  The name of your book is “Resilience.”  I started reading it the other night.  I fell asleep reading it, but it was very powerful.  And you clearly wrote it.  It‘s you.  No ghostwriter could have written this thing.  It‘s too real and too personal.  Nobody could know about your father and all this stuff except you.  I like it when you can tell the person who wrote it, because there‘s too many people around us who have the book written for them. 

EDWARDS:  And you clearly write yours as well. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s for sure. 

EDWARDS:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.  Back to today‘s main event, President Obama versus former Vice President Dick Cheney, and that‘s how the family pronounces it, that Dickensian way, Cheney.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Too often our government made decisions based on fear rather than foresight.  And all too often our government trimmed fact and evidence to fit ideological predispositions. 

CHENEY:  After the most lethal and devastating terrorist attack ever, seven and a half years without a repeat is not a record to be rebuked and scorned, much less criminalized. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back now with the politics fix.  Let‘s bring back MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan, and Lawrence O‘Donnell, and former CIA special agent Jack Rice. 

I want to start with Lawrence on this.  Putting terrorists in US prisons is something we‘ve been doing for years.  You pointed that out before.  Why is the U.S. Senate, where you worked in a high position, so namby-pamby, so afraid to vote for demolishing the facility at Gitmo, at Guantanamo, and putting people in super max prisons here if they‘re convicted? 

O‘DONNELL:  You mentioned before, Chris, it was one of those votes they cast to protect themselves against 30-second commercials.  Dianne Feinstein proved that.  She got up and gave a very eloquent speech against the idea that she then voted for, in order to just be recorded on the politically correct side of the issue for that day. 

There‘s never going to be anyone campaigning against you, attacking you for voting yes on that yesterday.  But what the vice president just said on that clip about keeping us safe for seven years is this very weird chant that comes out of the Bush-Cheney administration. 

That was the presidency that allowed the attack on 9/11.  Richard Clarke was trying to tell the president, the vice president and Condoleezza Rice, anyone who would listen in the White House, before 9/11, that this was going to happen.  And Dick Cheney, who prides himself on his national security credentials, sat there for nine months in that White House without a bit of curiosity about al Qaeda, without a bit of curiosity about what they were plotting. 

All he had to do was ask the question and the briefers would have been there.  But he acted very surprised on 9/11, because he was, because he was completely incompetent in the first nine months of that job of protecting the United States from that kind of threat. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about the question here.  Are you afraid, Pat, as a citizen of the United States and a resident of Virginia, that some federal penitentiary nearby might house a terrorist?  Does that scare you? 

BUCHANAN:  No, my sister in law is a judge right there.  She would be right down in the jail down in Alexandria.  No, it doesn‘t. 

MATTHEWS:  Why is everybody else scared? 

BUCHANAN:  I can‘t believe there are 90 Democrats or how many—

MATTHEWS:  They‘re scared. 

BUCHANAN:  But some of these—

MATTHEWS:  I think it‘s narcissism.  They think they‘re going to have their own terrorist come after them. 

BUCHANAN:  Some of them win by 70 percent of the vote.  They have nothing to fear.  But here‘s what‘s happening—what‘s happening is that whatever you say about Cheney, he‘s on his own turf.  It is at solid ground.  He‘s now at 37 percent.  He‘s probably at 50 percent on national security.

But Obama‘s coalition is splitting apart, asunder, in three parts. 

You have these senators up there on the Hill who are running for the hills.  You‘ve got the left wing and the Pelosi wing ones, why are you putting together these tribunals?  Shut it down.  Then you got the large center with Barack.

MATTHEWS:  Why is the president 65 percent if this is—

BUCHANAN:  Well, he‘s very popular. 

MATTHEWS:  Could it be that he‘s taking a position which is center-left but smart?  Isn‘t that possible, Pat, that he‘s found the sweet spot? 

BUCHANAN:  No, I‘ll tell you what.  If you had a poll not on Obama versus Cheney, but on who do you think has a better idea for protecting the United States against terrorists, I‘ll bet Cheney and Obama would be much closer than 65/37. 

MATTHEWS:  If they had a great idea, why were they thumped in the last election? 

BUCHANAN:  This wasn‘t the reason they were thumped. 

MATTHEWS:  I think the war in Iraq and the torture added up to a bad smell for years.  Jack Rice, your thoughts here now?

RICE:  Let‘s face it, the Democrats are pandering, and they need a backbone when it comes to this. 

Let‘s make it nice and clear.  We see where the Republicans are.  You‘re not going to get a certain number of those.  But I‘m just shocked that the Dems can‘t step up and say, you know what, we shouldn‘t be paranoid about this.  You could put this in South Carolina in the brig.  You could put this in a federal prison in Virginia.  You could put them in Camp Pendleton in San Diego, California. 

There‘s a bunch of places they could go.  They have never gotten lose ever from a federal maximum-security prison.  The idea that we would be petrified by this is frankly ridiculous, at best.  And the Dems know it.  Reid is continuing to just do the worst that everybody says he could do, and he‘s doing it. 

MATTHEWS:  By the way, if I were the president, I would keep a list of those six guys, all of them men, who voted with him the other day when it was tough.  They are winter soldiers.  They includes Pat Leahy and Dick Durbin, and Whitehouse, Jack Reed, the other Reed from Rhode Island.  A couple more.  They‘re with the president thick or thin. 

I would put them on my favors list.  We‘ll be back with Pack Buchanan, Lawrence O‘Donnell and Jack Rice for more of the politics fix.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Pat Buchanan, Lawrence O‘Donnell and Jack Rice.  I don‘t know if you‘re going to sit this one out, Jack.  We‘re going to sheer politics right now.  Pat Buchanan, who won?  Was the president right to go into the ring with Dick Cheney?  It was Dick Cheney‘s day.  The president said I‘m taking him on.  He did it.  Who won? 

BUCHANAN:  Clearly Cheney helped himself and I think he won, but I don‘t think Barack Obama necessarily lost.  I thought it was an elegant speech by him.  But Cheney clearly up there against the heavyweight champion, and he did a terrific job and he rallied his troops.

But I think Obama‘s speech was quite good.  But, frankly, I think on this issue, Chris, the Republicans and the Cheney-Bush people, this is the strongest argument they‘ve got.  We kept the country safe for seven and a half years. 

MATTHEWS:  Lawrence, your call on the vote, who won today?  Watching this thing as a skilled political observer, your thought?

O‘DONNELL:  I think Obama won very clearly.  It was a very solid speech, very carefully presented, and fairly presented, in terms of its inclusion and framing of his opponent‘s views. 

Cheney‘s speech was ridiculous.  The basic beginning was I would do it again; I would do it all again.  He wants to go do the water boarding himself now.  Water boarding was so great, so great, that they used it on three—they used it on exactly three prisoners.

They let 500 out.  Cheney is the guy who let 500 of them out of Guantanamo, released 500.  And 14 percent of those went back to terrorism.  And Cheney sees no problem in that.  None at all.

MATTHEWS:  Jack Rice, watching this as a CIA agent, what do you think of this one?  Who won this thing today? 

RICE:  I think Obama was on the right side of history.  Big picture, we‘re going to realize he was right. 

MATTHEWS:  But you think—theatrically—theater today, you think that Dick Cheney won, don‘t you? 

RICE:  Well, I think in the short term he did, because he feels like he‘s pandering to his base.  But I think he‘s wrong in the big picture.  And I think people will realize that.

O‘DONNELL:  He‘s pandering to Pat Buchanan. 

MATTHEWS:  I think the written speech today by Dick Cheney was very well done, very well crafted.  I think his performance before he spoke today, when he showed the real Dick Cheney, with those smart-Alec remarks right before he spoke, making fun of the president of the United States, showed the guy for what he is, the troll under the bridge, biting the ankles of the kids walking across the bridge. 

He did not look good.  He did not look good today, because that was the real Dick Cheney.  It‘s pronounced Cheney.  Pat Buchanan, Lawrence O‘Donnell, Jack Rice—

O‘DONNELL:  It was Baryshnikov versus Jake LaMotta, and you know how it came out. 

MATTHEWS:  Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  It was Rocky Marciano against the Mongoose, Archie Moore.  Rocky won.  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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