updated 6/26/2009 10:32:13 AM ET 2009-06-26T14:32:13

Guests: David Shuster, Courtney Hazlett, Lois Romano, Kathleen Parker, Carl Bernstein, Dan Rather, Ron Brownstein, Charlie Cook

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Argentina firecracker.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

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

The last tango?  Well, is it?  Are we talking last tango?  How bad is the damage to the Republican brand from the Mark Sanford affair, the story of the missing governor, the hiking governor, the pan-American governor, the governor who‘s now paying for the trip he took at taxpayers‘ expense and is now going to pay for.  Anyway, this story has been non-stop.

Of course, the New York tabs are having an early 4th of July over it.  “The Daily News”—“Buenos Airhead: Meet America‘s latest love guv.”  “The New York Post”—“Latin lover e-mails.”  But even the venerable old and gray lady herself, “The New York Times,” which normally frowns on such splashy displays of this kind, put it above the fold, across the top of the page with a huge photo of Sanford in living color.  There it is.

Let‘s face it, it‘s becoming a lot harder for Republicans to position themselves these days as the party of cleanliness and godliness with this stuff puffing to the surface week after week.  Can the Republican Party run on a platform that it keeps slipping off of?

Plus: What about the wives?  A lot of people noticed that Sanford‘s wife was not by his side.  Neither was John Ensign‘s wife last week.  Nor was Elizabeth Edwards by John‘s side.  Stand by your man?  Got a better idea.  Let him roast out there all alone.

And tonight, the Nixon tapes—Vietnam, the Christmas bombing, Watergate.  We‘ve got two people tonight that Richard Nixon, must have figured we‘d have here tonight, you might say two of his worst people in the world, from his view, at least, Carl Bernstein, who broke the story of Watergate alongside Bob Woodward, and Dan Rather, who was, well, his bete noir for all those months and hears as president.

Plus: Is Barack Obama risking becoming a goody two shoes?  “The Politico,” tongue in cheek, thinks so and they conclude that‘s not necessarily a good thing.  We‘ll chew that one over in the “Politics Fix.” 

By the way, the smoking thing might save him.

And if you‘re running for senator in Arkansas, here‘s a hint.  If you‘re thinking of going to some part of the state, don‘t say you‘ll need a visa and a shot to go there.  But that‘s exactly what one candidate said.  We‘re going to have the fallout from that little misstatement in the “Politics Fix.”

We begin, however, tonight with the latest on the Sanford affair, and there‘s a lot to report here.  Charlie Cook is the editor of “The Cook Political Report,” and Ron Brownstein is political director for Atlantic Media.

Ron, the latest news that‘s coming out of “The Wall Street Journal” is that the governor intervened with the planning for a trip to Latin America last year and said, Let‘s go to Argentina, to Buenos Aires, in addition to going to some other places in that region.  Let‘s go there.  Now he‘s saying he‘s going to pay for that part of the trip, even though he said—well, here it is, his quote.  “I attended a trade mission with the Department of Commerce”—that‘s of his state—“last June.  I made a mistake while I was there in meeting with the woman who I was unfaithful to my wife with.  That has raised some very legitimate concerns and questions, and as such, I am going to reimburse the state for the full cost of the Argentina leg of the trip.”

The problem, Ron Brownstein, is that, apparently, he was the one who initiated that leg of the trip.  He wanted to go there.  He‘s the one that urged the state to let him go to that part of South America, and now he‘s saying that was part of official business and he‘s going to pay for it, I guess to avoid legal problems.

RON BROWNSTEIN, ATLANTIC MEDIA:  Yes, well, look, you know, most of this story, most elements of this story are either tragic or lurid.  But the tripwire in terms of where there becomes a legitimate—I think the most legitimate public concern, beside the fact of disappearing for five days, is the question of whether public funds were used to advance this relationship, and I think that is going to be probably the critical question in terms of his survival as governor in South Carolina.

Here “The Wall Street Journal” story is saying that they were already planning to go to the country and he wanted to add Buenos Aires to the itinerary.  I think this is what the legislators in South Carolina, if I had to guess, are going to look at most closely because that is the area—as a lot of this becomes kind of squirm-inducing and very difficult to kind of, you know, watch, that is the area where there is the most legitimate question.  I think those questions will be asked very pointedly.

MATTHEWS:  Charlie, is it wrong for him to pay for the trip now?  Does that make him look guilty?  In fact, is he digging his own grave by admitting he needs to pay for a part of the trip which he claimed until yesterday was official business?

CHARLIE COOK, “COOK POLITICAL REPORT”:  Oh, I think he‘s just—he‘s trying to clean up a little bit a very messy situation.  But the thing about it is, my hunch is that this guy is going to hang on, he‘s not going to resign as governor and that these—this aspect of the story won‘t push him out.  I mean, if you think about it, his political future in terms of running for president is over.  There are Republicans sitting in both of the U.S. Senate seats, and he can‘t run for re-election.  And his family may be gone.

The only thing this guy has to cling onto is his seat, his governorship for the next year-and-a-half.  And my guess is, I don‘t think that you‘re going to see anything that‘s going to really push him out of the way, that these stories, as hot as they can be right now, but within—you know, within a week or two weeks, you know, things will move on.  Other events will push it aside.  And I‘d be surprised to see Mark Sanford not governor six months from now.

MATTHEWS:  I would have agreed with you yesterday.  I think with this latest development that he‘s on record now as saying, I‘m willing to pay for a trip—an extended leg of a trip down to Buenos Aires that wasn‘t really part of the plan and I‘m going to pay for it now, even though I say it was part of the official business, puts him in a position of saying that he‘s morally compromised.

Here‘s his senior adviser, however, putting this point to “The Washington Post,” to Chris Cillizza today.  Quote, “Mark is firmly focused on reconciling his marriage and on fulfilling his duties to the people of South Carolina for the remaining 18 months of his term.  Jenny is a full partner in both of those desires.”

Let me take a look at this poll we‘ve had (INAUDIBLE) an overnight poll.  These are quickie polls, but they do tell you something of South Carolinians and how they feel about him.  Fifty percent of the people want him out right now.  They say resign.  Forty-two percent say no.

I would suggest, Ron and Charlie, that when the voters down there get ahold of this latest fact, that he took this trip primarily to meet his girlfriend and he‘s now willing to pay for it, even though until yesterday, he was trying to get the state to pay this over $10,000 -- it‘s a lot of money by most people‘s standards—he‘s in bigger trouble.  Ron.

BROWNSTEIN:  Yes, I—I agree—I think I agree with you, Chris.  I mean, look, there are aspects of the way this has unfolded that would cause if not understanding at least some sympathy for him.  I think the decision about the media there and nationally to air these e-mails and publish these e-mails is almost indefensible to me unless, again, there‘s an aspect of it that relates to his public performance.  But I‘m with you.  I think that to the extent that there is a question of whether he used public funds here, I think it is—I think it is somewhat more dangerous than Charlie suggests.  At least, I think so.

And also, don‘t forget the backdrop.  This is not a governor who has had great working relationship with his legislature even in his own party there.  He‘s been in conflict with them.  He‘s obviously been at the center of this storm of what seemed to be a very 2012-oriented decision to reject stimulus money.  So it isn‘t like there are a lot of people who have a deep emotional attachment to keeping him in power in the same way that Democrats did when Bill Clinton was engulfed in a scandal in 1998.

So I‘m not sure that there will be that much reason to keep him there, other than his own desire to hold the job.  And he may, as Charlie said, but I do think that this is the tripwire that will make everybody is was critical of him more comfortable in moving forward to the extent he used public dollars.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at...

COOK:  Chris...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I want to go to the Republican Party problem nationally because this is a national story now.  Look at these—look at this graphic on the contenders that‘s up.  This is an update on what‘s going on.  Mark Sanford, of course, admitted his relationship with that Argentinian.  John Ensign admitted an affair with his former staffer.  Newt Gingrich got pretty much overboard going after Sotomayor, pretty rough in that situation.  Bobby Jindal didn‘t exactly have a great debut at the State of the Union time.  Jon Huntsman has taken a job with the Clinton administration—or the Barack Obama administration as ambassador to China.  You can‘t get further away than that.  And Palin, of course, has had some dramas of her own, although she‘s very strong within the party.

It seems to me, Charlie, that as the Republican Party gets smaller in the polls, down to around a quarter of the country right now, it‘s more attracting to the right and it‘s a safer place for a Palin.  A smaller party is a bigger opportunity for a Palin or someone further over like she is.

COOK:  I think you‘re absolutely right.  As the Republican Party‘s base narrows, it becomes more conservative.  The people they‘re losing out to the middle are, you know, independent—to the independent side, they‘re moderates, of course.  And so it does make the party more conservative.  And the fact is if they had to run—if they had to run against Barack Obama right now, they would be in a fix.  They would be in a vacuum.

But the thing about it is, you know, everything is going to rest on the economy, on whether Obama‘s agenda is successful or not.  And to be honest, if—you know, if the economy picks back up and if people generally approve of what Obama‘s done, it doesn‘t matter who Republicans nominate.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

COOK:  And conversely, if the economy double dips down or the Obama agenda crashes and burns, then Republicans can nominate Alfred E. Neuman and have a great chance of winning.  So you know, who—what‘s happening with the players right now in June of 2009 really isn‘t that consequential.

MATTHEWS:  ... direction here, Ron.  And I want Charlie back in this.  Look at this direction.  Look at this—Sarah Palin now, who takes a ribbing from the national media, and she gets ribbing here, of course, is running 73 percent to 17 percent favorable/unfavorable within her party.  Incredible numbers.  Romney‘s 57, 18, Gingrich 55, 22 within the party.  You know, it‘s really—there‘s a poll number there on Palin now.  She‘s about even nationally, but within the party, she‘s golden now.

It seems to me that with this party getting into trouble day after day with these sex problems that it‘s hard for them to stay on that platform of theirs of godliness and cleanliness, Ron.  I mean, at some point, people are going to say, you know, this is something out of “The Crucible,” I mean, or maybe “Elmer Gantry.”  It‘s the Elmer Gantry party, selling one thing, doing another.  The platform writing is going to get a little weird, isn‘t it, when people are sitting down there in the next convention site, trying to write the platform on this godliness and cleanliness while these big names, these bold names in the party, have gotten them nothing but embarrassment.

BROWNSTEIN:  So to respond to the first half of your question first, look at—as Charlie said, as the party shrinks, today in Gallup polling, 70 percent of self-identified Republicans are conservative.  And because of that, you get the dynamic that these numbers from Pew really underscore—

Sarah Palin and other conservatives very, very popular in the party, but have a much tougher time outside of the party.  And that is kind of the challenge.  Overall, you have to say the last few weeks have been good for Mitt Romney in terms of weeding out other potential competitors in 2012.  Who knows, Dick Cheney might be looking better before this is over.

(LAUGHTER)

BROWNSTEIN:  And yes, hypocrisy is always a problem for the party.  There are always people who will want to find hypocrisy or a dissonance between what a party stands for and how people live.  Don‘t forget, though, I mean, hypocrisy really is always in the eye of the beholder.  There were conservatives in 1998 and ‘99 who were saying that Bill Clinton was a hypocrite because Democrats talked about protecting and defending women and he was involved in what they described as a predatory relationship.

So I think there‘s a tendency—look, when people misbehave or do things that, you know, they probably wish they didn‘t, you can always find a way in which that violates their professed moral code almost by definition.  I don‘t think Republicans have any particular monopoly on that, though, you know, the steady drumbeat...

MATTHEWS:  Oh!

BROWNSTEIN:  ... of these cases...

MATTHEWS:  Ron...

BROWNSTEIN:  ... does make it tougher.

MATTHEWS:  ... you‘re being analytical and very bipartisan or non-partisan, but the term “family values” has been a monopolistic asset of the Republican Party now for decades.

BROWNSTEIN:  Chris...

MATTHEWS:  That term, “family values,” says, We‘re the Hallmark card, we‘ve got it together, here‘s the picture of us and our kids and the dog and everything‘s fine at home.  Vote for us.

BROWNSTEIN:  That‘s true.

MATTHEWS:  I mean, I‘ve argued, Charlie, for years that candidates for office of either party should be able to say, I‘ll either run selling the family and how everything is nice at home, or I‘m going to run with no information about my family.  I‘m not going to tell whether I‘m married, straight or gay.  You make your own judgments, but don‘t come at me and accuse me of hypocrisy down the road.  But they don‘t do it that way.  They sell the Hallmark card.

COOK:  Chris, I don‘t think anybody expected that Republicans would be running in 2012 on family values.  They‘re going to be either in the hunt or not in the hunt because of economic issues, because of the deficit spending.  Those are the...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

COOK:  If they have any chance at all, that‘s what they‘re going to be running on.  They‘re not going to be running against Barack Obama on family values.  They never were.  They aren‘t now.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Charlie, you‘re a wet blanket.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I want to ask you, Charlie, is this story about Sanford a big story?

COOK:  Oh, I think for this week, it is a big story.  I think a month from now, we‘re not going to be talking about Mark Sanford.  The thing is, I would argue...

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t see a trend line here from Sanford back to Ensign, back to Newt Gingrich, back to Livingston, back to mark Foley, back to Larry Craig.  You don‘t see a pattern, a template here that the other party is not going to be able to use to ream these guys with?

BROWNSTEIN:  No.  No.

COOK:  Chris, between the two of us—between the three of us, we could come up with a dozen Democrats that have similar problems, whether they‘ve come out or whether they haven‘t.  But the thing about it is...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

BROWNSTEIN:  Chris...

COOK:  ... this is not—I mean, people think that this is what politicians do.  This is going to feed the cynicism that people have about politicians in general.  Most Americans have never heard of Mark Sanford and they never heard of John Ensign.

MATTHEWS:  Well, they‘re hearing of them now.  Thank you, guys.  Go ahead, one last thought quickly, Ron.  I‘m sorry.

BROWNSTEIN:  You know, look, I think that‘s right.  I think that, you know, what we learned in the Clinton—the whole Clinton scandal was that the voters are pretty tolerant of human imperfection and they recognize that no party has a monopoly on virtue.  You‘re right that Republicans use “family values” rhetoric more, and in some ways, it‘s more difficult for them.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

BROWNSTEIN:  But for each side, as Charlie said, there‘s plenty of examples of people doing things they shouldn‘t, and ultimately, the parties I think are judged more broadly than that.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I just think the party of Rick Santorum and Schiavo and all the rest has gotten—well, we‘ll see.  Charlie Cook, thank you, Ron Brownstein.

Coming up: Standing by their men.  Mark Sanford‘s wife wasn‘t there when Sanford admitted his affair to the world.  Neither was John Ensign‘s last week when the Nevada senator admitted his.  These guys don‘t drag—well, they didn‘t drag their wives in front of the cameras anymore.  Eliot Spitzer, David Vitter and Jim McGreevey—well, they did.  Are times changing at home?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  When Governor Mark Sanford admitted he‘d been unfaithful to his wife, he joined a long list of politicians who have made similar public pronouncements.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Indeed, I did have a relationship with Miss Lewinsky that was not appropriate.  In fact, it was wrong.

GOV. JIM MCGREEVEY (D), NEW JERSEY:  And so my truth is that I am a gay American.

SEN. LARRY CRAIG ®, IDAHO:  Let me be clear.  I am not gay.  I never have been gay.

SEN. DAVID VITTER ®, LOUISIANA:  I want to again offer my deep, sincere apologies to all those I have let down and disappointed with these actions from my past.  I am completely responsible, and I am so very, very sorry.

GOV. ELIOT SPITZER (D), NEW YORK:  The past few days, I have begun to atone for my private failings with my wife, Silda (ph), my children and my entire family.

JOHN EDWARDS (D), FORMER NORTH CAROLINA SENATOR:  In 2006, two years ago, I made a very serious mistake, a mistake that I am responsible for and no one else.  I in 2006 told Elizabeth about the mistake, asked her for her forgiveness.

SEN. JOHN ENSIGN ®, NEVADA:  Last year, I had an affair.  I violated the vows of my marriage.  It‘s absolutely the worst thing that I‘ve ever done in my life.

GOV. MARK SANFORD ®, SOUTH CAROLINA:  And so the bottom line is this.  I have been unfaithful to my wife.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  Some of these politicians had their wives by their side, and some, as we‘ve noticed lately, did not.  Does it matter?  Joining me is “The Washington Post‘s” Lois Romano and syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker.  Thank you both, friends of mine.  You‘re both friends of mine, so we can talk.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  It seems to me that this is a small side of it, except that, clearly, the victim in a case of infidelity is the other spouse, primarily.  Obviously, you could argue society, you could argue the kids, but it‘s the other spouse that—that takes the brunt of this public announcement. 

You know, Lois, I felt especially sorry for David Vitter‘s wife, because she looked especially sad and—and embarrassed out there to stand next to her husband during that. 

What do you make of these cases?  I mean, some of them involved accusations or realities of gay relationships, illegal behavior, in terms of ordinances being broken, of gay relationships in bathrooms.  There‘s prostitutes involved in some of these.  Some are just rolls in the hay, as we used to say, one-night stands, we guess, but we don‘t know. Some are true love affairs, like this one currently seems to have the the sense of that about it with Sanford, the way he describes it. 

Does it make—how does it—how do we calibrate these, in terms of behavior by the spouse, appropriate behavior? 

LISA ROMANO, THE WASHINGTON POST:  Well, I think you see a real distinction here between announcements and relationships that are with prostitutes or that are truly—that we can tell—are one-night stands, as opposed to relationships that are actually relationships. 

And, if you look, you know, on Elizabeth Edwards did—was nowhere near John Edwards when he announced, because they not only had a relationship, but there might be a child involved. 

Yesterday, you know, that wife wasn‘t going to show up, because Mark Sanford was essentially saying that he‘s still in love with the woman in Argentina. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

ROMANO:  So, it really depends on the humiliation level. 

You know, like Eliot Spitzer‘s wife, well, that guy clearly had a problem.  You know, he was just hooking up with hookers.  And, so, I guess she felt it was not a personal humiliation.  It was something that was wrong with him. 

And I think that‘s how I kind of distinguish it. 

MATTHEWS:  You are so astute, Lois.  I‘m glad you‘re my friend.  I mean, this is—really makes sense to me.  I mean, I don‘t know, but, I mean, who knows anything about these.  But, in terms of common sense, you seem to have the most here. 

Kathleen Parker, the most famous columnist today from the center position politically, even center-right occasionally—and you do live in South Carolina, so, you know a bit of this situation—what‘s the newest protocol for spousal behavior in light of huge embarrassment? 

KATHLEEN PARKER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST:  Well, Chris, I mean, I know a lot about this situation.

And—and one thing I want to just say up at the front is that we‘re talking about really fine people here.  These are not lowlifes.  These are not evil people.  There are no real—real bad guys.  I mean, obviously, the governor has betrayed his wife, and—and they have to work that through. 

The bigger issue for him, of course, is—is whether he also betrayed the taxpayers.  But, as to whether the woman joins her husband, I think, really, that‘s—you know, what we‘re talking about when—when something like this happens is—is a state of mourning, and people grieve in different ways. 

I think, in this case, Mrs. Sanford is probably looking at all this with righteous indignation, and has no—has no idea, no sense at all that she would step forward and be present for any of this public scrutiny. 

She issued a very strong statement, made her—her feelings very clear.  But I don‘t see that there is a right or wrong way to—to—to treat this, any more than there‘s a right or wrong way to grieve. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, it‘s fascinating to see this very elegant woman, the vice—the wife of the governor of South Carolina, Jenny Sanford, walking around.  We just saw a picture there on the B-roll of her distributing statements. 

I mean, she came out and—look at it.  We‘re looking at a rerun of this.  There she is coming out in this very tropical back—setting here reading it.  The...

PARKER:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  The state—the statement, by the way, reads, in part:

“When I found out about my husband‘s infidelity, I worked immediately to first seek reconciliation through forgiveness, and then to work diligently to repair our marriage.  We reached a point where I felt it was important to look my sons in the eyes and maintain my dignity, self-respect, and my basic sense of right and wrong.  I, therefore, asked my husband to leave two weeks ago.”

So, I think everybody familiar with grownup life knows where that one stands. 

PARKER:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  She‘s maintaining her pride and her position, and letting him sort of decide what he wants to do with his life. 

This is all playing out in public.  I personally think it‘s a little strange to be—anybody reading love letters on the phone, or on national television, but that‘s where we have gotten, I guess. 

Did the Clinton thing change anything, Lois and Kathleen, or is it still where we were before the Clinton thing back with Monica.  Is there a new lower bar, or a higher bar, or what? 

ROMANO:  I think—I think it‘s really situational. 

I mean, the thing with Bill Clinton, everybody knew what they were getting with Bill Clinton.  I mean, the rumors were about him for years.  We elected him after Gennifer Flowers.  And, so, that‘s just where it was.  And I think that‘s why the public was so tolerant.  And I think that‘s why his approval ratings stayed high...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

ROMANO:  ... because he never pretended to be anything else. 

I think all these other people, as you were talking about, or some of them, anyway, I mean, they—they have double standards.  And it‘s hypocrisy.  So, I don‘t think you can say the standards have changed or they‘re not—standards changed.  I think it‘s an individual situation, who the politician is and how they handle it. 

MATTHEWS:  Kathleen, same...

PARKER:  Well, I agree with...

MATTHEWS:  Do you agree with that? 

PARKER:  I agree with—with much of what she said, yes. 

I—I think there‘s a certain degree of scandal fatigue at work, too. I think people are exhausted by all these—these public confessions and - and the airing of all this dirty laundry.  It—it makes—you begin to feel a little dirty yourself, being a spectator to it. 

So, I think that—I think people would rather not have to get right into the details.  I mean, I‘m—I‘m fairly scandalized that these e-mails have been posted.

But, you know, it‘s true that, with President Clinton, that there was a—sort of an understanding that—that he was—how do you put it?  He was fond of women.  And Governor Sanford is the squeakiest-clean guy around.  And, so, when he—when something like that happens with a—with a person of his profile, then it‘s—it‘s a little bit more shocking. 

Plus, you know, it‘s not helpful that he, when he was in the Congress, was very strongly opposed to President Clinton. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

PARKER:  So, he was outspoken in that—in that arena. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

PARKER:  Of course, he had no way of anticipating that this would happen. 

You know—OK.  Sorry.  I could go on. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you, both.

Lois Romano and Kathleen Parker, thank you very much.

Up next:  President Obama‘s favorite sport is basketball, but now a baseball team is taking the president‘s name.  Stick around.  We have got a Brooklyn team with his team on it, a single-A team.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First up:  How is this for a tribute?  On Tuesday this week, minor league‘s baseball Brooklyn Cyclones named themselves—renamed themselves the Baracklyn Cyclones. 

You can see here, the single-A team went all out, custom red, white, and blue uniforms with the new names, a President Obama look-alike to pose with fans, and a bobblehead Obama doll to give out as keepsakes.  The team even paid tribute to the president‘s bipartisan spirit.  Everyone named McCain or Palin gets free seats up in the bleachers. 

Next up:  Talk about starting off on the wrong foot.  Republican Curtis Coleman, an Arkansas Senate hopeful, got himself in hot water for saying that anyone who travels down to the southeastern part of Arkansas—quote—“might as well get a visa and a shot.”

Mariah Hatta, executive director of the state‘s Democratic Party, sought to exploit the comment with the following statement: “Inferring that one part of our state is disease-ridden foreign country is not only incorrect, but also insulting.”

Well, obviously. 

Coleman, who is hoping to run against incumbent Democrat Senator Blanche Lincoln, now says his comment was—I just—was a metaphor.  He said he was intending to pay tribute to the enormous diversity in Arkansas. 

How is this for a metaphor?  Mr. Coleman is up to his elbows in alligators now. 

And now it‘s time for tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

It was hard not to say here we go again yesterday, watching Governor Sanford in that press conference of this.  After all, ever since that Clinton-Lewinsky embarrassment back in 1998, we have seen an irregular flow of episodes along this line. 

All in all, how many of these affairs gone public have we had since Clinton and Lewinsky?  Twenty-three—Mark Sanford, John Ensign, John Edwards, Eliot Spitzer, Larry Craig, David Vitter, Mark Foley, Gary Condit, Jim McGreevey, Rudy Giuliani, Bob Livingston, Newt Gingrich, to name just a few of the national names in bold print. 

In the past decade, we have had 23 high-profile political sex scandals come to light—tonight‘s “Big Number,” a fat 23. 

Up next:  A new batch of secret Nixon tapes are out right now.  The former president is caught on tape talking about everything from the Vietnam War to his feelings about abortion.  We have got the tape and two of the best people in the world—in fact, two of the worst people, from Nixon‘s point of view—Watergate sleuth Carl Bernstein, who broke the story, and former CBS anchorman, the bete noire, I think it‘s fair to say, of Richard Nixon, Dan Rather.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m David Shuster: breaking news this hour from MSNBC headquarters in New York. 

“The Los Angeles Times” is now reporting that pop star Michael Jackson was taken to a Los Angeles hospital this afternoon, and that, when fire paramedics arrived, Jackson was not breathing. 

Furthermore, the NBC affiliate in Las Vegas is quoting Jackson family members as saying Michael Jackson suffered a heart attack—again, “The Los Angeles Times” reporting that Jackson went to a hospital, the UCLA—

UCLA Medical Center.  This would be at about 12:26 p.m., which would be 3:26 Eastern time, approximately two hours ago, the hospital apparently just minutes away from Jackson‘s home in Los Angeles.

Apparently, Michael Jackson is at the UCLA Medical Center, again, according to “The Los Angeles Times.”  And, again, there are reports from family members in Las Vegas telling NBC‘s affiliate station there that Jackson suffered a heart attack. 

We‘re still collecting more information.  We‘re trying to sort out what we know from what we don‘t know.  We will, of course, keep you posted again, the news that the king of pop has gone to a hospital.  We will keep you posted. 

I‘m David Shuster—now back to HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

A new batch of Nixon audiotapes has been released.  And, on them, the former president can be heard discussing the Vietnam War, the release of the POWs, abortion, and the actual safeguarding of those White House tapes themselves. 

Here is a clip of Nixon desperate to keep those audiotapes a secret in a conversation with his chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman.  This was back in 1973. 

Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

RICHARD NIXON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I want control of these.  I want nothing ever transcribed out of this.

H.R. HALDEMAN, NIXON WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF:  You have total control.  Nobody know it exists except Alex and me and one guy, one technician.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, they‘re hard to read—or learn, but it‘s clearly him talking to Haldeman, saying he doesn‘t want them out to the public.  He doesn‘t expect they will ever get out. 

We have two top newsmen here who covered the Nixon era as big as you can cover it.  That‘s Carl Bernstein, one half of the Woodward-Bernstein team that broke the Watergate story itself, the cover-up, and Dan Rather, then of CBS. 

Well, we have got you both. 

And, by the way, Carl wrote “Women in Charge.”

Let‘s take a look at this right now.  What do you make of this, Dan? 

He never thought those tapes would get out.  What do you make of that? 

DAN RATHER, GLOBAL CORRESPONDENT, HDNET:  Well, we know why he hoped that the tapes would never get out, because there are a lot of people who are not of memory age when this happened or weren‘t—weren‘t born when it happened.

But what you had here was a widespread criminal conspiracy that eventually sent 42, 43 members of the Nixon administration to do hard time.  This widespread criminal conspiracy, which we call, for shorthand, Watergate, was run out of the Oval Office, spawned by and directed by the president of the United States.

And he knew, if the tapes got out, that he wouldn‘t be president any longer.  And, of course, they did get out.  And he was forced to resign as a—quote—“unindicted co-conspirator” in that widespread criminal conspiracy. 

MATTHEWS:  Carl Bernstein, getting the tapes out, that was a question from Fred Thompson, then a Senate counsel, to Alexander Butterfield, who was in charge of the system.  It was a direct question, a direct answer.  You have got tapes. 

CARL BERNSTEIN, AUTHOR, “A WOMAN IN CHARGE: THE LIFE OF HILLARY RODHAM

CLINTON”:  Well, Butterfield said, well, there‘s this taping system. 

And that really was the end of the Nixon presidency. 

These tapes are particularly interesting, though, because, on the Vietnam portion of the tapes, they show something that is contrary to what popular belief was.  And that was that—that Nixon really had been cynical about the end of the Vietnam War and that—that the bombing of Cambodia was really for political purposes. 

The tapes show him saying that he really believes the war has been won by the bombing.  And it—it‘s quite remarkable.  And he says to his foreign policy adviser, Bob Hope, in a rather remarkable conversation, he -he tells Hope:  We had to win this war.  The country needed to win this war. 

And it‘s one of the few, if not the only example on the tapes where Nixon talks about what he sees as the good of the country, as opposed to the good of Richard Nixon. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s listen to...

BERNSTEIN:  The rest of these tapes are full of self-pity, full of...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

BERNSTEIN:  ... anger, full of his enemies.  But, in this one instance, I think it might change our view.  He really thought, perhaps, we had won the war in Vietnam. 

But he was deluded. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I always think it depends who he‘s talking to.  If he‘s talking to a guy like Bob Hope, he talks differently than when he‘s talking to Bob Haldeman. 

Here he is talking to Bob Hope about that very question, about the release of the POWs in ‘73 and what it‘s going to do to us in the world.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

NIXON:  You know, it makes—you know, after all the business that you and I have taken through the years, it makes you feel pretty good, doesn‘t it?

BOB HOPE, ENTERTAINER:  Oh boy.  Oh, it‘s just—it‘s (AUDIO GAP) a thrill.  It‘s just a thrill.

NIXON:  And the main thing is, apart from—apart from the personal thing, Bob, it‘s so good for the country.  The country could not lose this war. 

(CROSSTALK)

NIXON:  We had to win it.

HOPE:  What they did for this country, you know, this—and it emanates from you, your strength and how right you were.

NIXON:  Our enemies respect us.  Our allies now trust us.

HOPE:  Isn‘t that something?

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of that, Dan Rather?  Everybody liked Bob hope.  I thought he was...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... a hawk on the war.  And I thought he...

RATHER:  Well, everybody liked Bob Hope.  But going to Bob Hope for foreign policy...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

RATHER:  One thing I think needs to be made clear here—and this is somewhat at odds with what my friend Carl Bernstein said—that it‘s very clear now, we know not just from the tapes, that President Nixon knew that this cease-fire was, in—in effect, going to end American involvement in the war, not with—quote—“peace with honor” at all, that these tapes indicate that his—that what they had in mind was to sell this as peace with honor.

But the reason

RATHER:  -- not with, quote, peace with honor at all.  That these tapes indicate that what they had in mind was to sell this as peace with honor; but the reason the President Thieu of South Vietnam didn‘t want to go through with it, and they forced him to go through with it, they all knew—they all knew that this meant that North Vietnam would eventually take over South Vietnam, which it did somewhat two, 2.5 years later. 

So there was cynicism, deep cynicism involved here, that they all knew this deal was just a cover to get out, not, quote, peace with honor, and not winning the war on the basis of the Cambodian bombing. 

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  Carl, let‘s listen to this tape and then you can comment.  Here is Nixon the morning before his Second Inauguration, talking to Chuck Colson about the Christmas bombing.  You pick up on that, Carl. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NIXON:  Good god, when you think of what basically Eisenhower did in World War II, I mean, he decimated cities.  Not because he wanted to kill people.  Because he wanted to end the war. 

Why did Truman drop the atomic bomb?  Not because he wanted to demolish cities; because he wanted to end the war. 

Why did Eisenhower bomb the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) out of the cities of North Korea?  That‘s what ended the war, you know?

CHUCK COLSON, NIXON ADVISER:  And threatened to really take them out.  He was ready to go in, as you well know.  He was ready to do a hell of a lot more about it.  And this had done it again this time. 

NIXON:  Well, we hope it has.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Carl, your thoughts? 

BERNSTEIN:  My thoughts are that President Thieu of Vietnam realized that all was lost, and he was trying to convince Nixon that all was lost, and he was absolutely right.  I called Neil Sheehan (ph) when I read these tapes, the great UPI reporter at the time in Vietnam, and read him some of these excerpts.  And Neil too was struck by what sounds very much like Nixon really did believe that this could win the war, that he could bomb the Vietnamese into submission. 

He was wrong, of course, and the president of Vietnam was right.  Part of the purpose of the bombing was to get Thieu to go along, not just to persuade the North Vietnamese, but to get Thieu to go along with what the United States wanted to do, because Thieu didn‘t want any part of it. 

MATTHEWS:  So what is it, Dan?  Nixon thought we could still win the war after pulling our troops out in ‘73, getting the POWs back, by allied bombing, just continually bombing the north, or didn‘t he? 

RATHER:  No, I think he did not.  There are several different theories about this.  It‘s a reasonable theory that he thought it might work.  But I don‘t subscribe to that theory.  I think the cynicism ran deep here.  Keep in mind that President Nixon was elected in the 1968 election by saying that he would end the war with honor. 

Now, more than 22,000 young Americans lost their lives during the Nixon presidency; 22,000 out of the total 57,000.  What President Nixon was trying to do was give himself a patina (ph) of a get peace with honor, even a victory in the war.  I don‘t think for a moment that he believed anything other than I‘m going to get political cover with this, and South Vietnam will be taken over by North Vietnam. 

He knew it.  I think Dr. Kissinger knew it, and that President Thieu certainly knew it. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I think it—well, North Vietnam was going to take over South Vietnam the minute we left.  It was just going to take time.  That‘s just a fact.  Carl Bernstein, Dan Rather, it‘s great to have the experts on tonight. 

Up next, David Shuster, we‘re going to get an update on that developing story out of L.A. on Michael Jackson.  He‘s been rushed to a hospital.  We‘ll keep up to date on that one.  We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK):

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC ANCHOR:  I‘m David Shuster in New York.  We continue to follow the breaking news involving pop star Michael Jackson.  And there‘s every indication at this hour that the news is very serious. 

According to a number of reports, including the “Los Angeles Times,” Michael Jackson was taken to the UCLA Medical Center approximately two and a half hours ago, after paramedics were called to his home in the Homeby (ph) Hills.

According to the “Los Angeles Times,” when paramedics got there, Jackson was unresponsive and was not breathing.  Our NBC affiliate station in Las Vegas is attributing quotes to Jackson family members, including Joe Jackson, the dad, saying that he had been alerted to an emergency condition, but did not have the details, but was en route to the UCLA medical center. 

In addition, there are reports from our affiliate and from others that Jackson‘s brothers have gathered at the medical center, and that Janet, the sister, has not, but she is also en route. 

Again, a very serious seeming situation this afternoon with Michael Jackson, 50 years old, the King of Pop, who produced the most famous and most sold album of all time in the late 1980s, “Thriller.”  Michael Jackson reported this afternoon unconscious, reported taken to the UCLA Medical Center, where at least, according to family members, according to our affiliate, Michael Jackson was suffering from cardiac arrest. 

Again, the details are still somewhat sketchy at this hour.  The incident happened two and a half hours ago.  A lot of effort to try to find some confirmation, to try to determine exactly what Jackson‘s condition was when he arrived at the hospital, and what his condition is now. 

But, again, the “Los Angeles Times,” which has some pretty solid sources in the story, in Hollywood, is reporting that Michael Jackson was taken to a hospital this afternoon, and that he was not breathing when the paramedics arrived at his home. 

All of this comes amidst Jackson‘s attempt at something of a new tour.  Jackson was hoping that a three-year world tour, a new album, movie, like a Graceland like museum and more could somehow wipe out Jackson‘s massive debt.  So he was clearly hard at work, and resuscitating his music career.  And he had been rehearsing for a series of sold-out concerts, that were to begin in London beginning July 13th

But again, the news at this hour, every indication that it‘s serious, “Los Angeles Times” reporting that Michael Jackson was taken unconscious, not breathing, to the UCLA Medical Center approximately two and a half hours ago. 

Let‘s go to MSNBC‘s Courtney Hazlett, who‘s also very well plugged into Hollywood, and has been working her sources.  Courtney, what is the latest that you have? 

COURTNEY HAZLETT, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Hi, David, you‘re absolutely right.  It‘s an extremely confusing situation.  All signs do point that it is very, very serious.  However, it‘s been impossible to get somebody directly related to Michael Jackson on the phone right now.  As you can understand, everybody is rushing to be by his side. 

Really confusing also with inside the tour.  They were scheduled to practice at the Staples Center in just a few moments, literally.  Everybody there was in place and expecting Michael Jackson to arrive momentarily. 

So there‘s a lot of confusion inside the tour.  I‘ve been speaking to his managers and people inside his circle for literally months, since news broke that he was going to be going to London‘s arena to do this big comeback series.  And they‘ve been saying every step of the way, he‘s healthy; he‘s healthy; he‘s healthy.  Rumors to the contrary are not true.  So this definitely comes as an enormous surprise. 

SHUSTER:  Courtney, let‘s talk a little bit about the tour, because we talked about the tour as saying one thing or another.  I guess it‘s important to point out that the tour, they were expecting him at a particular location.  At least as far as we know, the paramedics went to his house, and, if this story is—we believe it to be true, he was taken to the UCLA Medical Center.  So essentially the people involved in his rehearsals,they would be hearing this information perhaps the same way we might, right? 

HAZLETT:  You‘re absolutely right.  Several of the people did find out from me when I called for confirmation.  They‘re literally at the Staples Center waiting to begin rehearsal.  So Michael Jackson has always been shrouded in a huge degree of secrecy.  He‘s very careful about the people he lets into his inner circle.

But even to the extent where the people who are depending on him, and expecting him to arrive at any moment are somewhat kept in the dark.  It‘s been very difficult to get in touch with family members as well. 

Like I said, it‘s one of these situations, you hope that the news coming out is not true.  But it does seem that all signs point to the fact that he is in the hospital, he was taken by ambulance, and the situation is very, very serious. 

SHUSTER:  Courtney, who are the people these days who are closest to Michael Jackson?  I mean, when we see reports about his family, his father Joe giving an interview to our NBC affiliate in Las Vegas, saying he knows that there‘s a medical condition, doesn‘t know what it is.  Who are the people closest to Jackson who are most likely to really know what‘s going on? 

HAZLETT:  Truthfully, the people inside of his tour.  Those are the exact people who don‘t know what‘s going on.  He‘s had a difficult relationship with his family.  If you recall, just a few weeks ago, there was a lawsuit that came out alleging that Michael Jackson had no right to embark on this London tour, because first he was obligated to do a family reunion tour.  So it was essentially his family members who were bringing this lawsuit to the table. 

His relationship with them has been contentious.  We‘ve known this for year and years and years.  That said, they have always stood by his side.  When you saw, during his own trial, his family came out in full support of him.  He‘s very close to his children.  He‘s very close to, you know, just by approximately, the people who he surrounds himself on a day-to-day basis, bodyguards, staff, those sorts of people.

But in terms of who he really trusts, who he can call a friend, there aren‘t a lot of folks. 

SHUSTER:  Courtney, I want to update our viewers.  Again, if you‘re just joining us, these are live pictures of the UCLA Medical Center, which is only just a couple minutes from Michael Jackson‘s home, which he had been renting out. 

The “Los Angeles Times” again reported that approximately two and a half hours ago, paramedics were called to Jackson‘s home, where they found him unresponsive.  E Online is quoting Joe Jackson, Jackson‘s father, as saying he had a heart attack.  He‘s not OK.  His mother is on her way to the hospital right now to check in on him. 

The Los Angeles City Fire Department, a spokesman—actually, not a spokesman, somebody quoted also in this story, unidentified, saying the call came in because a person was not breathing.  But the spokesman for L.A. City Fire Department declined to identified the singer by name.

But again, the “Los Angeles Times” is reporting that it was Michael Jackson who was taken by paramedics from his home to the UCLA Medical Center.  You‘re seeing the live picture there. 

The police, of course, standing by, and I imagine of course, it would be quite a scene. 

Courtney, on a day when Hollywood was already sort of reeling, I suppose, from the not surprising news that Farrah Fawcett had reached the end—she had been sick for some time—how big a shot is the news that Michael Jackson, if in fact his father is correct, that he had a heart attack?  How big a surprise would that be? 

HAZLETT:  It‘s an enormous surprise, David.  You just said it.  We were all talking about Farrah Fawcett passing away today.  That is a death that we saw coming, and yet we were still really shaken by it and surprised by that, when we were faced with the actual reality of it. 

So to find out so late in the day here, at least on the East Coast, that Michael Jackson might have had a heart attack, and might have died, is just absolutely stunning and flabbergasting, especially in light of the fact that people I spoke to very close to his inner circle, in terms of his tour, were saying he‘s healthy; he‘s doing great.

He wanted to actually extend rehearsals.  He wanted to do two a day rehearsals, from what I was told.  And they said no, you can‘t over-extend yourself.  You have a really big tour coming up.  So, yes, tremendous, tremendous surprise. 

SHUSTER:  Courtney, we‘re going to let you get off the air and continue to work your sources and contacts.  Again, we‘re trying to get confirmation on exactly what Michael Jackson‘s condition is at this point.  We‘re now two and a half hours since paramedics were called to the home that he was renting in the Homeby Hills.  And according to the “Los Angeles Times,” when paramedics arrived, the person was not breathing, and CPR was performed.  And there‘s some reports that at least initially Jackson was unresponsive.

He was then taken to the UCLA Medical Center.  Since then, literally for the last two and a half hours now, word has sort of been trickling out, but his condition, once he got to the hospital and what‘s been going on the last two and a half hours, that remains unclear.  There remains no confirmation as to what Jackson‘s condition is at this hour, but a number of reports now from Jackson‘s family, Joe Jackson, his father, said that Michael Jackson had a heart attack. 

Our NBC affiliate in Las Vegas is reporting that the Jackson family has been summoned to the UCLA Medical Center.  Some of the family members are apparently by his side.  Again, Michael Jackson, perhaps self-proclaimed the King of Pop, but a lot of people would argue he is perhaps the most famous pop star of our time.  He sold more albums, more records in one album with “Thriller” than any in American history.

He, of course, has had quite an amazing life, both as a musician, but also an intriguing life, some would say not in a great way, in terms of his personal life.  There were charges several years ago that he had sexually molested a child, a lawsuit was settled for 20 million dollars. 

Michael Jackson had been in debt with some bad investments.  And this summer he was expected to try to erase some of that debt through a world tour, a three-year world tour that many thought would earn him millions, would put Michael Jackson back on the map, restore his finances, restore his love, restore the love that so many fans have for him, of his music. 

Again, Michael Jackson, as we‘ve been hearing from Courtney Hazlett, had been involved in rehearsals in the Staples Center, which is a couple of miles by downtown.  That would place it a fair distance away from Michael Jackson‘s home.

Again, the news broke this afternoon, “Los Angeles Times” reporting that EMS, paramedics were called to Jackson‘s house.  Since then, the effort to try to get some sort of confirmation or update on Michael Jackson‘s status has been tricky, as you might appreciate, given that most of his tour was at the Staples Center, preparing for the rehearsals. 

And Michael Jackson, who can lead something of a reclusive life—the paramedics were called to his home, and then the reports that Jackson was taken from his home to the UCLA Medical Center.  You‘re looking at live pictures.

Again, the UCLA Medical Center is only just a couple minutes away from Jackson‘s house, which is not too far from the Westwood Section of Los Angeles. 

So again we‘re waiting to see what information we can get.  Again, the incident began at 3:26 Eastern time, 12:26 Pacific, approximately two and a half hours ago.  Fire and EMS received the call of somebody who was unresponsive at their home.  They went to home that Michael Jackson had been renting. 

According to the “Los Angeles Times,” Jackson was unconscious.  Some reports say the paramedics performed CPR, which you would expect under these circumstances, and immediately rushed Michael Jackson to the UCLA Medical Center. 

Joining us again is MSNBC‘s Courtney Hazlett.  Courtney, you‘ve had some time to again talk to your sources.  What do you know?

HAZLETT:  You know, David, there is so much confusion going on right now.  Michael Jackson is—he has so many people, not a lot who are very, very close to him, though.  So he‘s got different factions of management who are hearing some things, different faction of management who are completely in the dark.  I have spoken to people on both ends who hear—they‘re hearing some of the absolute worse, but can‘t confirm 100 percent, and others who are literally in the dark and hearing about it exactly how the rest of America is hearing about it right now, which is through the news and through the Internet. 

It‘s a difficult situation, because obviously you don‘t want to mis-report this.  But he‘s a pop icon.  He‘s somebody when—if you saw the press conference announcing his London ‘02 concert tour arena tour, everyone was wrapped.  We watched him walk out and say almost nothing, but it was a magical moment to see him again in the forefront.

So we‘re all trying to get to the bottom of this and get the most accurate story out there.  But one thing that is clear, it‘s very, very serious.  And it‘s a matter of getting all the family members on the same page at this point, before anyone can confirm something 100 percent. 

SHUSTER:  By the way, it is the top of the hour, 6:00 East Coast time. 

For those of you who are expecting to see THE ED SHOW, we‘re covering some breaking news out of Los Angeles.  Pop star Michael Jackson has been taken was taken some two and a half hours ago to the UCLA Medical Center. 

Paramedics, according to the “Los Angeles Times,” were called to the home that Jackson was renting in the hills.  Jackson was 50 years old, was apparently found unconscious.  According to the “Los Angeles Times,” paramedics performed CPR and rushed Jackson to the hospital. 

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

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