updated 7/14/2009 10:19:58 AM ET 2009-07-14T14:19:58

Guests: Eugene Robinson, Pat Buchanan, Julia Boorstin, Sen. Richard Durbin, Sen. Orrin Hatch, Ron Suskind, David Corn, Maria Teresa Kumar, Howard Fineman

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Culture wars, the  battle for the Supreme Court.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews, back from two weeks in Africa, back on MSNBC‘s brand-new HD studio here in Washington.  As you can see right away, it‘s quite a state-of-the-art set-up, with cutting-edge technology.  One of the things I‘ve learned about television over the years is that the bigger the room, the better, and we have a lot more space in this new studio.  Look at this place.

Leading off tonight on the substantive matter, the politics of today‘s first round fight over President Obama‘s nominee to the U.S.  Supreme Court.  Judge Sonia Sotomayor delivered her opening statement before the Senate Judiciary Committee today and immediately said, despite what she once said and was taped saying about the role of the appellate court in this country, it‘s not the job of a Supreme Court Justice to make policy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUDGE SONIA SOTOMAYOR, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE:  In the past month, many senators have asked me about my judicial philosophy.  It‘s simple, fidelity to the law.  The task of a judge is not to make law, it is to apply the law.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  While Sotomayor seems headed toward confirmation, Republicans made sure to raise the red flag on some of her previous speeches and whether she‘s allowed her personal background and sympathies to sway her rulings on the bench.  But is this really a battle over her sponsor, President Barack Obama?  Is this really a surrogate fight we‘re watching over the president‘s philosophy?  That‘s what Richard Wolffe said today earlier, and I think he‘s got a big point here.  Let‘s hear right off the bat tonight, by the way, from two senators from the Judiciary Committee, Dick Durbin of Illinois and Orrin Hatch of Utah.

Plus, “The New York Times” reports that Dick Cheney ordered the CIA to keep Congress in the dark for years about a secret counterterrorism program developed in the days after 9/11.  Did he or did he not break the law by withholding information from lawmakers?  We‘ll have more on that classified program, which “The Wall Street Journal” reported today involved assassinating al Qaeda operatives, the way that Golda Meir once ordered the killing of the murderers at the Munich Olympics.

What put the soon to be former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin on the road to resignation?  “The New York Times” reports that a top official from the Republican Governors Association staged an intervention, they called it, in an attempt to save her governorship and political future earlier this year, but his advice was largely ignored.

For what it‘s worth, here‘s Levi Johnston‘s take on his once—well, his one-time future mother-in-law.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEVI JOHNSTON, FORMER FIANCE OF SARAH PALIN‘S DAUGHTER:  She‘s very smart, but I just don‘t think she can handle the stress level as governor.  I don‘t think she can handle it as president or vice president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s for what it‘s worth.  We‘ll have much more on Palin‘s motives, if we can get them—we‘ll get them—let‘s face it, it‘s hard to figure out anybody‘s motives for quitting office—later  on the show tonight.

And President Obama names his surgeon general today.  Is this his way of saying it‘s make or break time for his health plan?  That‘s in the ‘Politics Fix” tonight.

And finally: Could there be another Cheney in office?  More on that in the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”  That‘s his daughter, Liz Cheney, who hasn‘t ruled out running for office some day.

We begin this day with the first day of the confirmation hearings for Sonia Sotomayor.  We have two members of the Senate Judiciary Committee joining us right now, starting with Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois.

I was on the program this morning covering this thing live, your hearings today, Senator.  And Richard Wolffe, who‘s a smart guy—he‘s got a big book out about the campaign, you know him well—he says this is really a surrogate fight between the president‘s enemies and our president.

Let‘s take a look right now at the judge making her case in her opening statement.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SOTOMAYOR:  Throughout my 17 years on the bench, I have witnessed the human consequences of my decisions.  Those decisions have not been made to serve the interests of any one litigant but always to serve the larger interests of impartial justice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that raises the question of whether her empathy for people is, in fact, a prejudice towards certain people.  Has she addressed that issue so far, Senator?

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS:  I think she has.  I think she‘s addressed it.  And I think it just stands to reason that each of us, no matter what we do in life, whether we have a HARDBALL show or whether we‘re senators or whether we‘re trying to be on the Supreme Court, bring our life experience to it, the people we‘ve met, the experiences we‘ve had.  It‘s bound to have some impact.  Sandra Day O‘Connor grew up in a ranch in Arizona.  It made a difference in the way she looked at the world, the way she analyzed human conduct.  That‘s not unusual.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I guess that gets down to the question of Affirmative Action and whether she on the Court will put her thumb on the scale in favor of minorities against people who might lose in a case where the courts rule in favor of minorities.  Now, let me get to the key question here, the Ricci case.  The Supreme Court overruled her when she ruled at the appellate level it was OK for the city of New Haven to throw out a test because the results showed that no African-Americans passed the test for promotion for firefighter, for higher office in a firefighter operation up there in New Haven.  What did you make of her position on that?  Did you support her ruling in that case?

DURBIN:  I think her ruling was the only ruling that she could have handed down.  It reflected 38 years of court decisions.  It reflected the trial court‘s decision, the appellate panel‘s decision, and the full appellate court, and she joined in  to what was clearly the precedent.  Along came the Supreme Court, and by a 5 to 4 vote, a  very close vote, turned it over and said, We‘re going to do it differently.  How can you hold that against her?  I mean, she was really taking the law as given to her over the years and applying the law to the set of facts she was given.

MATTHEWS:  But a lot of people look at that as results-based Affirmative Action, not trying to create an equal chance at the starting line, which is the goal of Affirmative Action, an outreach which all reasonable people believe in, reaching out to a larger community that just the usual white guys who get the first dibs on jobs through networking, to a larger community.  Every reasonable person‘s for that.  But when you get to the question of whether if the results of the test come out in favor of the white guys, if you will, and then say, We don‘t like the test because the white guys won it, doesn‘t that seem prima facie like prejudice against white guys?

DURBIN:  You know, let‘s be honest about it, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Doesn‘t it?

DURBIN:  It sounds like a controversial issue that you and I could debate and people are going to see differently.  Her role was the role of a judge.  They asked her, Well, here are the set of facts.  And she says, Well, you know, as a judge, I can tell you we‘ve seen these before.  In fact, we have seen them for 38 years, and here is what we‘ve found and I‘ll continue to find that way.  If she‘d have gone the opposite direction, people would have said, Oh, she‘s a judicial activist.  She‘s trying to create law.

Listen, there are other people who can do it.  The Supreme Court obviously could, as well as the Congress.  But she is trying to find the appropriate role of the judge, and I think she did.

MATTHEWS:  So you don‘t think the Ricci case was reverse discrimination?

DURBIN:  I can tell you, we can argue that Ricci case and we will argue it.  We will consider it before Congress.  But consider her role.  She‘s the judge looking to the settled law, the precedent of 38 years, and she applied it the right way.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s take a look at her statement here.  This is her back in 2001 at a speech at Berkeley.  Quote, “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn‘t lived that life.”  Your view of that?  Did she take that back today by saying, I rule on the law, not on other issues?

DURBIN:  Yes, she did.  And let me tell you, there isn‘t one of us who hasn‘t given a speech, including Chris Matthews and Dick Durbin, that didn‘t have a line in there that somebody could come back and say, Well, just what did he really mean?  And the fact is, to judge this woman and her lifetime of experience and her experience on the bench by the phrase “wise Latina” is, I think, grasping at straws.

The bottom line is this woman has a splendid life story, an amazing story.  To be sitting up there on that panel today in the Senate Judiciary Committee, and you could see her speaking and then watch her mother‘s reaction to that, told you this is a great American story that she brings to it.  Of course she‘s proud about her origin, coming from the island of Puerto Rico, being born in the United States, and having served as she has in so many different aspects.  And of course she‘s proud of the fact that she did well in school.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

DURBIN:  But to suggest that that means she‘s going to be biased goes too far.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the Hyde amendment.  Do you support it, the refusal to spend federal money on abortions, period?

DURBIN:  Yes.  It is basically the settled law, and I‘m ready to stand by it.  And I think (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS:  So despite the fact that the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund took a different position doesn‘t bother you about her nomination, the fact that she supports that group?

DURBIN:  Not at all.  She—you know, her job in the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund, as a volunteer to the board, was not to pick and choose cases.  You know, that really gets into the attorney/client relationship.  It really was to try to guide this organization.  And whether you‘re talking about the NAACP or the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

DURBIN:  As Mayor Bloomberg said, it‘s only in Washington that you can volunteer for a great non-profit group, serving a group trying to find its way into the mainstream of America, and be criticized for it.

MATTHEWS:  So you don‘t believe—just to finish the point, you don‘t think the national health program we‘re going to get in October of this year—many of us hope we‘re going to get—should include federal funding for abortion.  You think it should not.

DURBIN:  It definitely should have a conscience clause involved in it so that those providers, doctors and hospitals and others, that cannot in good conscience provide abortion services will not be compelled to.  I think that‘s been our settled situation in America.

MATTHEWS:  But should any public program, if there is a public health care program as part of this plan—should any public program pay for abortions?

DURBIN:  Well, what it boils down to is whether or not we are going to even allow health insurance policies to cover it.  I think as long as the conscience clause is involved in it, then I can stand by it and say that that‘s acceptable.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you.  Let me go—thank you very much, Dick Durbin, ranking...

DURBIN:  Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  ... actually, majority whip of the United States Senate.

Now let‘s go to Senator Orrin Hatch, who is on the committee, of course, has been chairman of the committee.  Senator Hatch, are you concerned about her position on abortion rights?  Because I know, as Senator Durbin just said, the Hyde amendment is settled law.  In other words, the federal government can‘t spend federal dollars, taxpayer dollars on abortions.  Where do you stand?  Do you think it might be a dangerous aspect of the new health care plan, if that‘s included?

I was just reading “The Weekly Standard” this weekend, and the author in that piece said that there‘s a possibility that some committee, which would be made up of the president and the secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, might rule that it‘s in, that a federally organized health care plan, insurance plan, would actually pay for abortions.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH ®, UTAH:  I just came from the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions markup on the so-called health care reform that is the one-sided, all-Democrat liberal bill, and they just voted down an amendment that would have sustained the Hyde amendment, and they did it making it very clear that they‘re going to allow taxpayer financing of abortions.  Now, we‘ve never allowed that, but that‘s how left wing they‘re going up here on Capitol Hill.  It‘s really awful.

MATTHEWS:  You think that‘s a deal breaker?

HATCH:  Yes, there‘s no question about that.  And look, we‘ve had the Hyde amendment, which has prevented the taxpayers from being socked for abortions and have their monies used for abortions since 1976.  It‘s been accepted by almost everybody.  And here we are in the health committee—by the way, I was the one who raised the amendment and it lost 12 to 11.  Now, there was—it was a bipartisan fight against it, but even so, the 12 liberal Democrats on the committee—and they‘re all liberal except for Casey from Pennsylvania, who voted with us—it was 12-11...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I think it‘s going to be an issue.

HATCH:  ... and that‘s what they intend to do.  They want the taxpayers paying for all this stuff.

MATTHEWS:  I think it‘s going to be an issue, Senator, and I think your side may win this, ultimately.  Let me ask you about the nominee for the Supreme Court, Sotomayor.

HATCH:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  She‘s been a supporter of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund, which says that it‘s unconstitutional to deny a woman a taxpayer-supported abortion as part of a health care plan like Medicaid.  Do you agree with—do you think that might be a problem for her?

HATCH:  Well, she‘s on the board of directors.  It‘s not just a volunteer job.  She was on there for years.  As a matter of fact, she signed a document that I have in my files against the use of the death penalty and a whole bunch of other very liberal, left-wing approaches...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

HATCH:  ... that the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund was for.  Now, you know, these are things that really cause a lot of us a lot of angst.  I come at this wanting to support the president, wanting to support her, and—but these are—these things make it a little bit tough.  The Ricci case makes it very tough.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

HATCH:  And look, I heard Senator Durbin talk about how she was upholding the law as it is.  That ain‘t true.  In fact, her mentor, who wrote the dissent on what they did, said not only was that a case in first impression, but it should have been allowed to—should have forced the lower court to—you know, to look at it and get the real facts involved.  And it was a very, very bad decision.

What they did is they wrote it in a way thinking that it looked like they were trying to make sure that nobody would ever look at it because they put very little into it, didn‘t talk about the facts.  It was a pretty poor, shabby way of doing things.  And even her mentor got very incensed about it because of the nature of first impression of that particular case.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about guns.  Is there a question in your mind about her view about whether the—we have an individual right to bear arms under the state law, as well as under the federal law?

HATCH:  Well, she helped write the opinion in a case that really didn‘t have to get into that, but she then in a footnote just volunteers language that shouldn‘t have been volunteered, that the right to keep and bear arms is not a fundamental right under the Constitution.  There‘s no reason why she had to do that, and of course, she based it upon two cases that were—one was two centuries ago and the other one was I think in the 1930s, and those cases did not really dwell in that particular point.  So yes, it‘s a matter of great concern.

Look, she‘s a very bright woman.  She has a great story.  Her background is a terrific background.  I like her personally.  But I am concerned when judges get reversed because they do things that really are questionable.  She‘s had 8 of 10 cases taken up by the Supreme Court reversed.

Then the Ricci case—I remember Senator Durbin saying it was a 5-to-4 decision.  Yes, it was in one sense, but all nine Justices basically said that the case had to go back to get the real facts involved, and all nine Justices disagreed with what she did.  And even though the case was 5-4, that was—the four were those liberal Justices on the Court who, basically—you know, basically never see, you know, discrimination against white firefighters or white workers under any circumstances.

MATTHEWS:  Well, thank you very much, Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, one of the top Republicans on the Senate committee looking into the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor.

Coming up, the secret CIA program Dick Cheney didn‘t want Congress to know about.  This is serious business.  Democrats want an investigation into why the former vice president reportedly kept it from congressional leaders.  They‘re supposed to know what the CIA is up to.  He, according to this report, did not want them to know about this assassination plan.  Why did Dick Cheney do it?  Did he break the law?  We‘ll get to that when we come back, and it‘s a hot one.  And the chances, by the way, for a full-blown investigation are red hot.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  “The New York Times” reports that former vice president Dick Cheney ordered the CIA to withhold information about a counterterrorism program from Congress.  And now there‘s some Democrats that want to see some investigation of that into the nature of this program, what it was exactly, and why Cheney kept congressional leaders in the dark.

So what exactly was this secret counterterrorism program?  And was it illegal to keep it from the Congress?  David Corn is the Washington bureau chief for “Mother Jones” magazine and a columnist for CQPolitics.  And Ron Suskind‘s an investigative reporter and the author of the book “The One Percent Doctrine.”

Let me go to Ron.  Thank you for joining us, Ron.  You are the expert.  What was Cheney up to here exactly?  What did he authorize, and what did he keep secret from the Congress?

RON SUSKIND, AUTHOR, “THE ONE PERCENT DOCTRINE”:  Well, this is the early days after 9/11. 

The CIA was feeling it needed to build almost a paramilitary capability to match up with this vast network, this web, this matrix that was building in terms of communications and financial surveillance.  We know a lot about that. 

The view was, is that, essentially, CIA would sort of tag al Qaeda operatives, jihadists, couriers, and they would lead us to cells, and then the CIA would use its paramilitary capability to take the cells out. 

You know, at the start of the so-called war on terror, the CIA viewed itself essentially as a—as a fighting agent, as a fighting entity.  And—and—and part of what we‘re seeing here are—what happened in these early days, Cheney said, as far as I understand from some calls I have been making, Look, until—until we get to a fruition, there‘s no need to brief this to anybody.

MATTHEWS:  Who the hell is Cheney—who the—first of all, let‘s get this straight, Ron.  I want to get (INAUDIBLE) David Corn.

Somebody has got to take a refresher course on the U.S.

Constitution. 

SUSKIND:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Even though this government has past and it‘s out of history right now, we have got to know what the hell happened here.  Cheney had no constitutional authority, no executive authority whatsoever under the Constitution.  He‘s simply there to preside over the United States Senate and take his turn if something happens to the president.

How did he get the authority to tell the CIA to do anything, much less conduct an undercover activity, and not tell the Congress about it?  The Congress has authority.  He has none.  Why did they take orders from him? 

SUSKIND:  Everything at this point—yes.

MATTHEWS:  I just want to know, why did the damn CIA listen to him for a second?  He had no executive authority.  So, how could he get away with it? 

SUSKIND:  Cheney was acting...

MATTHEWS:  This just keeps getting worse and worse and worse. 

SUSKIND:  Yes.  Look...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Why the Congress, why does anybody let that man have executive authority?  He had none. 

Go ahead.  Your thoughts. 

SUSKIND:  Cheney was acting at this point, on matters of intelligence, essentially as the president.  They were briefing Cheney.

MATTHEWS:  Who said so?  Who said so?

SUSKIND:  I have it in all my books.

MATTHEWS:  Who told the CIA—who told the CIA to take orders from this guy? 

DAVID CORN, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, “MOTHER JONES”:  Well, you know...

MATTHEWS:  Just a minute. 

SUSKIND:  Cheney...

MATTHEWS:  Ron.

SUSKIND:  Yes.

Cheney—look, the fact is, it‘s just the way this president, President Bush, structured his White House.  CIA would brief the president and the vice president, and then the—the vice president would essentially take over.  He would be there for the daily operational briefs:  What are we going to do next?

MATTHEWS:  Well, what‘s this—all this thing about Bush being the decider, if this guy decides what Congress knows about counterterrorism? 

SUSKIND:  There was a variety of areas that I have written about and others have as well that the president essentially says, just make sure it gets done, and I don‘t want to know anymore, and Dick will handle it from here. 

This was one of those areas, so, the president, in case of emergency, can be deniable about some of these things that we‘re doing that he never or the United States never should essentially take responsibility for.  That was the way this system worked. 

MATTHEWS:  Well—well, is this runaway government?

(CROSSTALK)

CORN:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  What is this?  There‘s no constitutional checks on this guy, because he won‘t let Congress know about it.  He has no constitutional accountability because he has no constitutional authority. 

In other words, if the president tells Cheney he can do something, he tells the CIA to take orders from him. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I mean, did the president ever call the CIA director and say, take orders from Cheney? 

SUSKIND:  It was a structure set up to avoid accountability by the president, specifically.  That was the whole idea. 

MATTHEWS:  Astounding.  Astounding.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead, David Corn.  It‘s a...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Are you surprised by this? 

CORN:  Well, I—I—I...

MATTHEWS:  That Cheney can give orders to the CIA? 

CORN:  I have to say, I‘m not surprised. 

I mean, as Ron has written, as I wrote in the book with Mike Isikoff, again and again...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Yes, you guys are writing books after the fact. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  It didn‘t do us much good at the time, though. 

CORN:  Well, you know—well, I‘m sorry.  You know, a lot of reporters...

MATTHEWS:  I know.

CORN:  ... were asleep at the switch back then. 

You know, the—the CIA serves the president.  If the president says, hey, this is my guy, go see him...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Do you know if he ever told them that? 

CORN:  No, I don‘t know if he said that.

But—but there‘s a way in a bureaucracy—you know how Washington works better than anyone else. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

CORN:  If the president sends a signal, you deal with Dick on this...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Can you imagine Lyndon Johnson calling the CIA and telling them what to do? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  It‘s unimaginable. 

CORN:  Well, it depends how you structure the power equation of Washington.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Spiro Agnew calling the vice...

CORN:  Well, there‘s no way that Nixon would let Spiro Agnew do anything.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... the CIA? 

I mean, name a vice president in history...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... who would have given an order to the CIA. 

(CROSSTALK)

CORN:  The—the interesting thing about the story...

(LAUGHTER)

CORN:  so far...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I know.

CORN:  ... is that even Democrats on the Hill have said that there‘s not necessarily anything that was wrong with what the CIA was trying to do.  We can‘t be sure because we don‘t have the details.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

CORN:  But here we have Cheney, once again, showing his utter disregard for Republican government...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So, why do we have elections? 

Let‘s take a look at the—here is “The Wall Street Journal” reporting today.  “Amid the high alert following the September 11 terrorist attacks, a small CIA unit examined the potential for targeted assassinations of al Qaeda operatives, according to three former officials.  Some officials who advocated the approach were seeking to build teams of CIA and military special force commandos to emulate what the Israelis did after the Munich Olympics terrorist attacks” back then at the Olympics, said another former intelligence official—quote—

‘It was straight out of the movies.‘  One of the former intelligence officials said, ‘It was like, let‘s kill them all.‘”

OK, let‘s get away from the exact substance here to the question of authority to do this.  I remember Oliver North, Ron, and all the hell that we went through when we have renegade people doing stuff without constitutional authority.

But you say this president said to his vice president, you do—you do this dirty work, what he used, what, the dark side, or whatever Cheney called it...

SUSKIND:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  ... and—and, no, don‘t tell me about it. 

Do we know that happened?  There was actually a conversation like that.

SUSKIND:  I have no doubt there was that conversation.  The fact is...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But we don‘t know if there was.  You just assume.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Could it be that Cheney‘s manner, his ability to simply take authority, went along with the president‘s delusion that he was the decider? 

SUSKIND:  No, I think...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  That there never was a conversation?

SUSKIND:  I don‘t agree.  I—I—the president understood...

MATTHEWS:  I‘m just asking.

SUSKIND:  The president understood the structure here. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

SUSKIND:  You know, he‘s—he was no fool. 

But what happens here, essentially, you have got a violation of the basic issues of accountability in a democracy.  Cheney could operate this.  We‘re not talking Ollie North now.  We‘re talking the vice president of the United States acting...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

SUSKIND:  ... as a president who was directing, in this case, not only vast surveillance activities, but, ostensibly, paramilitary units to carry through—through to some sort of outcome what we‘re finding. 

Now, what‘s interesting...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You know what‘s amazing?

(CROSSTALK)

SUSKIND:  What‘s interesting...

(CROSSTALK)

SUSKIND:  ... though important, is that we didn‘t actually use these units because the—the surveillance was not strong and targeted enough, frankly, to employ them.  You know—and—and that‘s one of the reasons why Panetta so now easily can close down the program. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, here was...

CORN:  You know, the...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Here was the National Security Act in ‘47.  This amendment says, “The president shall ensure that the congressional Intelligence Committees are kept fully and currently informed of the intelligence activities of the United States, including any significant anticipated intelligence activity.”

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So, if that‘s the law...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... according to these reports, the vice president violated them. 

(CROSSTALK)

CORN:  Listen, there didn‘t have to be the conversation that you‘re asking us about between Bush and Cheney. 

I think, after 9/11, it was pretty clear to both of them what their roles were going to be.  Now, this—Cheney is a guy who wouldn‘t even give up the names of the people who came to talk to his staff about energy issues.  So, of course, when it comes to this...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You know, he would never tell us who was on the energy - his energy task force.

(CROSSTALK)

CORN:  On issue after issue, he said, I‘m not going to share this with Congress. 

(CROSSTALK)

CORN:  I don‘t trust these guys, which means he doesn‘t trust our very system, because the only way you‘re allowed to do secret stuff under our Constitution is if there‘s some sort of oversight from people who are elected by the general public, not just the president and the vice president. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  It‘s amazing that we elected Vice President Cheney and Scooter Libby to run our country.  It‘s just astounding to me...

CORN:  But—but Congress...

MATTHEWS:  ... that the president let these kids operate like it was their playpen.

CORN:  This can be—this can be investigated by the House and Senate...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

CORN:  ... Intelligence Committees.

MATTHEWS:  I hope...

(CROSSTALK)

CORN:  And we can find out.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Are they—do they have the nerve to do it? 

CORN:  Well, I hope they do.  Often, they don‘t.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  David, you‘re an expert. 

I mean—sorry, Ron.  Do you think the House and Senate have the guts, the strength, to demand a full on-the-record, under-oath explanation from the vice president and others regarding this, including Scooter Libby, his chief of staff, and David Addington, the whole band of them? 

SUSKIND:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Will they ever haul them before the Congress and make them swear to the truth, do you think?

SUSKIND:  I think what Panetta is doing here is throwing this up to Obama, saying, this seems to be a violation of law, violation of law...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

SUSKIND:  ... that‘s clear.  And that, in a way, empowers Obama to say...

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

SUSKIND:  ... I‘m simply upholding the laws. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

SUSKIND:  That‘s when we might get some action here. 

MATTHEWS:  Ron, I want you on again this week.  Please come back. 

Ron Suskind and David Corn, you‘re always welcome here. 

Speaking of Dick Cheney, could we see a Cheney family political dynasty?  Well, we will see.  That‘s a little more trivial.  Stick around for the “Sideshow” next.  And that‘s where that topic belongs. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First up: Dick Cheney‘s daughter.  Dick Cheney‘s daughter Liz has been making the media rounds, as we know, for months, apparently to defend her father‘s tenure as vice president and the man who many believe was the real decider of the last administration.  Certainly, that was the case when it came to matters of war and the cases made for war, also, as we just learned from “The New York Times,” of keeping Congress in the dark about CIA operations, which “The Wall Street Journal” reported today included assassination teams, if assassination is the right word to use for killing al Qaeda operatives. 

So, in entering the political fray, is Liz Cheney considering a run for office herself? 

Here is what she told “The Washington Times”‘ radio show today. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Are you yourself planning to run for political office at some point in time? 

LIZ CHENEY, FORMER U.S. DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE:  It‘s not something that I—I am going to do right away, but I am, you know, absolutely in awe of and inspired by people who do run for office.

And I—I have spent a lot of time working on promoting democracy around the world.  And it‘s just made me really grateful for and—for our system.  And I think it‘s given me a real understanding of how important it is for people to participate. 

So, it‘s something I may well do down the road here.  I hope to, you know, have the opportunity at some point to have that—you know, make sense for my family and everything else that‘s going on. 

(END AUDIO CLIP) 

MATTHEWS:  It sounds like she‘s caught the political bug.  Actually, I‘m impressed that she has the guts to make a run.  If she does, I will make a real effort to cover the race.

Time now for tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

“The Wall Street Journal” surveyed a group of top economists and asked them to rate President Obama‘s handling of this financial crisis we‘re in right now. 

Well, as a marker, former President Bush earned a median grade of 50 out of 100, a failing mark, of course, in most schools.  So, how does the new president rate?  Well, the economists gave President Obama a median grade of 70 out of 100, a passing grade, but narrowly. 

It‘s not always going to be this way.  But we can still argue, I think, that the hell we‘re facing economically right now, the unemployment numbers, for example, arose out of the policies of the last eight years, the mistimed and misapplied Bush tax cut jammed through, and, of course, the Halliburton war economics of the last eight years, not the urgent steps of the last half year to blame. 

Anyway, bottom line so far, President Obama gets a passing grade from the experts of 70.  He didn‘t pass by flying colors anyway—tonight‘s “Big Number.”

Up next:  When Sarah Palin announced she‘s quitting as Alaska governor, she left so many questions out there.  Why, why, why?  We have got some answers to those whys, why she quit, in light of what‘s going on.  Well, we‘re going to try and figure that out and what might be in her immediate future, besides making money on a speaking tour. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JULIA BOORSTIN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Julia Boorstin with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks surged more than 2 percent today on light trading and a bullish report on banks.  The Dow Jones industrials gained 185.  The S&P 500 is up 21, and the Nasdaq added 37 points. 

Big banks benefited today from a report by respect industry analyst Meredith Whitney.  Whitney predicts strong short-term gains on new regulations within the mortgage industry.  Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, and J.P. Morgan Chase all adding at least 5 percent.  But Whitney also warned, unemployment is likely to hit at least 13 percent. 

The head of the Obama administration‘s auto task force is stepping down.  Steve Rattner will return to family life in New York City.  He will be replaced by former United Steelworkers official Ron Bloom.

And convicted swindler Bernie Madoff is on his way to a federal prison in Butner, North Carolina, where he‘s sentenced to spend the next 150 years. 

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

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, the 21st century hits HARDBALL tonight. 

Did you see these graphics?  Welcome back. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Sarah Palin‘s everywhere.  She‘s the front page of today‘s “New York Times” in a piece about her road to resigning, and she‘s the cover of “TIME” magazine, dubbed “The Renegade.” 

And, today, in a newly released Federal Election Commission report, we learned that she definitely knows how to raise money.  She may have resigned as Alaska governor because of it, but is she unstoppable. 

Pat Buchanan is an MSNBC political analyst, and Gene Robinson, Eugene Robinson, is an MSNBC political analyst, of course, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for “The Washington Post.”

She‘s apparently raised three-quarters-of-a-million dollars already on behalf of her PAC.  She‘s obviously ready to sign up with some speaking bureau.  She‘s going to be out there, Gene. 

I guess there‘s no surprise, if you think of self-interest, why she quit the governorship.  She doesn‘t have to put up with some, you know, intramural fight over funding and the clap you—the crap you always take at home from anywhere, if you‘re a politician.  Home is the worst place to be for most politicians.

But is there another story here?  Is she on the road to being the nominee for next time against Barack Obama? 

(CROSSTALK)

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  You—you know, I really doubt it.  And there was a—there was a...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Do you really doubt it?  Really? 

ROBINSON:  I really doubt it.

MATTHEWS:  Or are you afraid of it? 

(LAUGHTER)

ROBINSON:  No, I really doubt it. 

And there was a time right after the election when Pat almost had me convinced that Sarah Palin was the—was the future of the Republican Party.  I even wrote a column then saying, you know, watch out for Palin.  Democrats should pay attention to her. 

I just think this—this leaving the governor‘s office the way she did, the chaos that there‘s been up there in the past few months, just the general untogetherness of...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But she‘s going to blame you—she‘s going to blame you and me and everybody else for doing this. 

ROBINSON:  Whether she‘s going to blame...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  She quit because the national media wouldn‘t get off her backside. 

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON:  I just—I don‘t think she‘s—I don‘t think she‘s got what it takes to actually run for president or to actually...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I wonder whether, Pat, in a party that‘s down to 26 percent of the electorate right now, that only includes the right, isn‘t she perfectly equipped to be the nominee at this point? 

Roger Simon said it on “Meet the Press” yesterday, that she would beat Mitt Romney tomorrow—or today, if they had a fight. 

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: It would have to take one year going out to Iowa.  She would beat him today, I think.  I‘m not sure she would beat him after a year. 

MATTHEWS:  Who is the better speaker?  

BUCHANAN:  Sarah Palin is one—

MATTHEWS:  Who is the better campaigner?   

BUCHANAN:  Palin is a better campaigner and is a better speaker.  She‘s a sensation, Chris.  There‘s no doubt about it.  The question is can she get the middle of America move to her?

MATTHEWS:  Why does she need the middle if the right wing controls your party? 

BUCHANAN:  There‘s no doubt she could win the nomination.  There‘s no question about that.  But I have a hard time believing that she could win the presidency of the United States, unless the country is in a real general disaster because of the issue of credibility—

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

BUCHANAN:  -- and competence. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  You guys are all historians of politics.  We all love the history, looking back.  When a party looks they can‘t beat the incumbent, whether it‘s ‘64 with Goldwater or ‘72 with McGovern—and you were on the other side of that fight—that‘s when they go to the far corner politically. 

When you can‘t win, you have some fun.  You follow your ideology.  Isn‘t this the perfect setting right now, if you can‘t beat them, have some fun running against him?

BUCHANAN:  If he‘s running—Barack Obama stays running at 60 percent over Romney and her, I think the thing to do would be to nominate her.  But the question—I‘m not sure she‘s going to run.  That was a devastating piece in the “New York Times,” in this sense: it shows what a tremendous pressure this woman has been under; family is under attack.  She‘s got these bills.  She‘s got five kids.  She‘s got a granddaughter there.  She‘s got ethics charges.  Runs Alaska. 

MATTHEWS:  The “New York Times” reported today in a front page story we mentioned, right on the front—I‘ll just paraphrase it.  Main point, the Republican Governor‘s Association sent their top guy out there to advertise her; keep a neat schedule, get organized, be a regular politician.  

ROBINSON:  Find a way to answer your phone calls. 

MATTHEWS:  She said, obviously, I don‘t want to do that.  That‘s not my plan.  I want to be a renegade. 

ROBINSON:  Yes, but it‘s in the context, as Pat said, really this atmosphere of crisis in the family, and, you know, in the wake of the great disruption of having—

BUCHANAN:  Why would the Republican Governor‘s Conference send some guy up there to tell you how to run your office? 

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  It is condescending to say the least. 

(CROSS TALK)

BUCHANAN:  She‘s a vice presidential candidate. 

MATTHEWS:  Sharpen your pencils and keep neat notes.  Use your copy book.  Here is, by the way, the father of Palin‘s grandson.  I love how we have to say these things.  Levi Johnston on “The Today Show.”  I have a problem quoting this guy.  But he is a family member, you know.  You never know how much intrigue there is with these guys.  Here he is on “The Today Show” this morning, going after his almost former—well, his almost current mother-in-law, which is not surprising in American life either, a fight like this.  But here he is. 

ROBINSON:  Almost, was going to be. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEVI JOHNSTON, FATHER OF GOV. PALIN‘S GRANDSON:  She means a lot to me.  You know, I‘d do just about anything for her.  But I really don‘t think I would vote for her if she ran for president. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Do you believe she‘s equipped to be president? 

JOHNSTON:  Yes and no.  I mean, she‘s very smart, but I just don‘t think she can handle the stress level as governor.  I don‘t think she can handle it as president or vice president. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  There‘s your witness, Pat.  We couldn‘t find Kato Kailin (ph).   

BUCHANAN:  I said this morning that Todd Palin ought to take that kid down to the creek and hold his head under water until the thrashing stops.  

MATTHEWS:  I think she may have been a winner in that one, the mother-in-law. 

(CROSS TALK)

BUCHANAN:  This is one of her problems.  She‘s up there with these ethics charges, trying to run the state.  She‘s got this stuff on “The Today Show.” 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m taking her side against him. 

ROBINSON:  It‘s not all the world against Sarah Palin.  Sarah Palin created some of this herself.  My question is was that resignation an Ed Muskie moment, a Howard Dean scream?  Was this a moment that—

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  In 1966, when you signed up with Dick Nixon, when he was up there in New York, and you said we have to talk about ‘68; he said first ‘66.  Could it be that her ‘66 is 2010.  She campaigns around the country, a couple guys like Charlie Crist win anyway, Tom Corbin wins in Pennsylvania.  You go around the country.  Five or six guys win, and she campaigned for them. 

And then she claims I picked up 23 seats in the United States Congress. 

BUCHANAN:  You do this—Nixon, we went to 80 Congressional districts, 35 states.  What she does is campaign all over the country for these guys, read and study as she‘s doing this. 

MATTHEWS:  Pick winners. 

BUCHANAN:  Do some big speeches where she makes a few bucks to pay off these debts, and then take a look and see if she wants to go for that year in Iowa and New Hampshire, and whether she‘s up to doing that with the family difficulties. 

MATTHEWS:  But in the meantime, she scores some victories.  Because if she identifies with winners, maybe some moderates—Gene, you got to give her credit, if this is her plan.  Will it work? 

ROBINSON:  She can rack up a bunch—

MATTHEWS:  She hangs out with Meg Whitman.  She might win.  She hangs out with Tom Corbin.  He will probably win.  She‘s goes around the country, picks four or five winners, and she‘s part of the team. 

ROBINSON:  Wait. 

MATTHEWS:  Where do we go?  We go to Sarah Palin election night.

ROBINSON:  If you‘re Meg Whitman and you want to be governor of California, do you say OK, Sarah Palin come on, campaign with me. 

MATTHEWS:  The inland counties.  Anyway, thank you Pat Buchanan. 

We‘ll be right back. 

BUCHANAN:  Inland empire. 

MATTHEWS:  Pat Buchanan, Gene Robinson, we agree, it‘s ‘66.  Route 66 for Sarah Palin.  Up next, how hard will the Republicans grill Sonia Sotomayor when the questioning gets tough?  Are they going to beat her up or are they going to be careful?  The politics fix is up next.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM ®, SOUTH CAROLINA:  Unless you have a complete melt-down, you‘re going to get confirmed.  And I don‘t think you will.  But, you know, the drama‘s being created here is interesting. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s media-smart Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.  We‘re back.  It‘s time for the politics fix with “Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman sitting across from me in this brand new studio, a 21st Century studio.  He‘s an MSNBC political analyst, as well as a “Newsweek” expert.  And Voto Lation‘s Maria Teresa Kumar, thank you for joining us.

Let me start with the personal story.  I want Maria Teresa to pick up on this.  I got to tell you what grabbed me.  I admit to having another one of those Matthews thrills today.  When they talk—when she talked with that big, happy face of hers—and I mean it positively.  She came across as so real.  When she talked about the way she and her mom—her mom going for an RN, registered nurse certificate, and sat with her brother, Juan, and they all did their homework together.  I just imagine in cramped quarters in some kitchen, the smell of the food still there.  I can see the room.  It grabbed me. 

MARIA TERESA KUMAR, VOTO LATINO:  For me it was personal. 

MATTHEWS:  How they pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, that family. 

KUMAR:  Chris, for me that was a personal story.  That‘s basically what my mother and I did, believe it or not.  I was studying to graduate from college.  My mother was getting her AA at the same time.  It was something that for me was personal and I identified with it. 

More than anything, her story is quintessential America.  I think there‘s parts of her story that every single American and every single household can identify with, whether it‘s losing a father, whether it‘s a single mother, whether it‘s struggling because you‘re the only woman in the room, or you‘re the only ethnic minority in the room, or because you all of a sudden decided that you‘re going to intervene and save baseball for the rest America.  It‘s pretty special. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s listen to the nominee herself making that case. 

Her story. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SOTOMAYOR:  On her own, my mother raised my brother and me.  She taught us that the key to success in America is a good education.  And she set the example, studying alongside my brother and me at our kitchen table so that she could become a registered nurse. 

We worked hard.  Our achievements are due to the values that we learned as children.  And they have continued to guide my life‘s endeavors. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Howard?

KUMAR:  Powerful. 

HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK”:  Well, I was—I was sitting right there, a few rows behind her.  Right after she said that, she turned around to her mother, who was sitting right behind her, and said, almost whispered, thank you, mom.  It was a private moment, but a wonderful moment.  And encapsulates the difficulties that Republicans will have in derailing her, because they‘re trying to portray somebody who is out of the mainstream, who relies on emotion, not on logic, on ethnicity, not on hard work. 

Everything about her story, everything about the way she presents herself—the calm and the dignity and the workmanlike fashion that she‘s lived her life—undercuts what the Republican message is going to be.  So that personal moment is also a very important political one. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s the first time, Maria Teresa, I‘ve ever heard somebody admit that they sweated to get a scholarship.  They didn‘t get it out of sheer IQ or SAT score making ability, like so many people we know.  But she did it because she sat at that table and did her homework, hours and hours and hours of it, to get it right, so she could move to a school like Princeton. 

KUMAR:  Incredible.  I think that she does also, she‘s communicating to a large part of the population, saying, you can do it as well.  That is I think what the Republicans are going to have a hard time.  I think Lindsey Graham, you said it.  He‘s media-savvy.  He realizes there are others—millions of Americans listening to this confirmation hearing.  The way they first started off the session—

Sessions specifically was tough.  They were trying to label her as a Latino woman that basically wasn‘t sure if she merited being there, because she might be viewing the world too much in those lines. 

MATTHEWS:  I think if I were a minority like that, of any minority status like that, and an immigrant like my parents‘ grandparents were, I would say, what more do they want from us?  We‘ll be right back with Howard Fineman and Maria Teresa Kumar for more of the politics fix.  What more do they want from us?  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Howard Fineman and Maria Teresa Kumar. 

Let me ask you, Maria Teresa, about this issue of the health care bill.  The president announced today that Regina Benjamin from Alabama is going to be his nominee for Surgeon General.  Many people interpreted this decision to do this today, on the day—well, Monday, his first day back from his trip overseas—was to keep the excitement behind his commitment to health care high on his agenda. 

My worry is that in the Hill today I watched as Senator Hatch came on tonight and said they just voted narrowly by one vote, with Bob Casey joining his side, to not exclude abortion from the health care coverage of this new plan.  I just think it might be a deal-breaker to include abortion, when the president says he‘s going to reduce the number of abortions in this country, through non-coercion, obviously.  How can he do that and say I‘m subsidizing it at the same time? 

KUMAR:  I think he‘s going to have a very difficult problem.  And I think this is where a lot of women‘s groups are going to look at him very critically, to see if he‘s maintained his campaign promise to push forward their issues.  I think he‘s going to have a fight.  I think one of the reasons that he came on Monday, right in the middle of the confirm hearings, is that he knew America was watching, and that he wants to demonstrate that he‘s a multitasker. 

I also think it demonstrates that he believes that Sotomayor is going to get confirmed rather easily. 

MATTHEWS:  Back to my question, Maria Teresa, is he going to kill his health care bill by including abortion financing by taxpayers for all Americans under this plan?  In other words, he says he wants to reduce the number of abortions in this country a couple weeks ago.  Now he says, by the way, I‘m going to subsidize them.  Does that work politically? 

KUMAR:  It‘s going to be tough.  I think what he‘s going to do right now is go behind closed doors and try to figure out the pulse—

MATTHEWS:  Howard? 

FINEMAN:  I think the health care bill is in big enough trouble as it is without loading the abortion issue on to it.  I don‘t know what they‘re thinking.  They‘re going to lose the whole bill. 

MATTHEWS:  They better hope that somebody strikes it.  Maybe Bobby Casey will save them from their worst inclinations.  Thank you, Howard Fineman.  Thank you, Maria Teresa Kumar.  Thanks for joining us.  Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL, on our brand new set here.  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.

END   

Watch Hardball each weeknight at 5 & 7 p.m. ET

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,