Guests: Butch Gautreaux, Mike Papantonio, John Harris, Lois Romano, Mark
Halperin, Charles M. Blow, Janine Zacharia
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Leak in the gulf.
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington. Leading off tonight: Plan D. BP abandoned its “top kill” effort to seal the oil gusher over the weekend, and now it‘s on to plan D, the cut-and-cap method using undersea robots to cut the pipe and siphon off some of that oil. On day 43 of this oil leak, we‘re not any closer to plugging the hole. Hurricane season starts today and storms in the gulf could pack an even meaner punch to a region that‘s still recovering from Katrina. Even Colin Powell, who endorsed Obama two years ago, criticized the president today for not taking full charge of this catastrophe.
So now that it looks like this oil disaster will last all summer long, how much political damage will it do to the Obama presidency?
Plus, can the Cheney crowd really accuse this president of being soft on terrorism when the number three al Qaeda leader, the prime conduit to bin Laden, the man who funneled money to the 9/11 hijackers, was killed in a drone attack in Pakistan?
And we know Michelle Obama has been careful to avoid politics since her husband‘s election—elected, but today she dipped her toe in political waters, or in this case, the sands of Nevada, to help out an important Democrat in a tough reelection fight. More on that in the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”
And “Let Me Finish” tonight with thoughts on the breakup announced today of Al and Tipper Gore after 40 years of marriage.
Let‘s start with BP‘s latest attempt to cap the oil leak. Butch Gautreaux is a state senator from the state of Louisiana and Mike Papantonio is an attorney representing families who are suing BP.
Senator Gautreaux, what is going on down there politically? What is going on in Louisiana? Are you guys—do you sense right now in your gut this is the president‘s problem or this is BP‘s problem, or this is the oil industry‘s problem, or this is some sort of God-inflicted damage on that community down there? Who‘s the main culprit?
BUTCH GAUTREAUX (D), LOUISIANA STATE SENATOR: Well, Chris, you know, we‘ve been dealing with this—I‘ve been dealing with this personally all my life. And the people of Louisiana, south Louisiana especially, have been dealing with oil and gas issues all of our lives. And I can tell you that this is BP‘s problem. The president‘s right that BP needs to pay whatever the cost is of the clean-up and also getting people‘s lives back together again.
MATTHEWS: Do you honestly believe that BP is going to pay for every drop, to get every drop of oil out of the Gulf of Mexico and every speck of oil that‘s sooted (ph) up some wetland is going to removed, that they‘re going to take it back to where it was before with the money?
GAUTREAUX: Chris, I absolutely believe they will not. And you know, we‘ve got to look for how this is going to be paid for. We know that, you know, the federal government doesn‘t have the money. We know that the state of Louisiana doesn‘t have the money. The money has got to come from somewhere, so it‘s probably going to have to come from the oil industry. But BP is going to avoid at all costs paying for this damage.
MATTHEWS: How are they going to avoid it?
GAUTREAUX: Oh, they‘re going to put us in lawsuits one after another. You know, from the Valdez, I understand that there are still suits pending, and I expect them to perform the same way.
MATTHEWS: When the president says he‘s going to bring those responsible to justice, what do you mean? Who do you think he does mean? Does he mean BP? Does he mean its executives, its board of directors? Who‘s he—who‘s he blaming here, the engineers?
GAUTREAUX: Well, you know, we know who‘s culpable. We know that there was the company man with BP that made the decision to hurry it up instead of slow down when the people from Transocean were saying that, We need to slow the process down. So—I know that we got one person culpable there. Now, he works for somebody that was probably putting the pressure on him, and it goes right up the campaign of command, I think right up to the president of the company.
MATTHEWS: So do you see clearly that it was the guy who refused to use drill mud through that 13,000 feet of pipeline down to the oil deposit and used seawater instead? Was that the main crime, as you see it?
GAUTREAUX: You know, I wasn‘t there firsthand, Chris, but I know how these things work. And frankly, the story that was related on “60 Minutes” last Sunday is very believable. This guy has no reason not to tell the truth. And he was in the meeting where this push was put on.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of the fact that Dick Cheney‘s former -
his former press aide has gotten a job now with BP? Do you think there‘s just—to me—I mean, I‘m not an oil person. I‘m not from the oil patch. I‘m not from Louisiana, that part of the country. I am suspicious of this whole relationship between the government of the United States and the oil industry. I look at Cheney for the last eight years of that administration, secret meetings with the oil energy people, secret meetings with BP (INAUDIBLE) a separate side meeting with them, $34 million as a sort of a, what is it, a get-well card from the oil company when he went to the vice presidency.
By any other standard, we‘d think this is third-world stuff. You know, we‘d say, Wait a minute, this guy gets the job of vice president, he steers all energy policy. Somebody stuffed 34 million bucks in his pocket on the way into the job. And then you find out that the Minerals Management Service is completely filled with rotating people there from the oil industry, all looking for jobs in the oil industry. Now you got a press secretary coming out of Cheney‘s office working for BP. It seems a tad incestuous.
GAUTREAUX: Well, we‘ve known of the incestuous relationship, I guess you would say, in Washington, D.C. But we have the same problems here in Louisiana. We‘re very—the legislature is very close to the oil and gas industry. It‘s almost—it‘s almost impossible to get a bill through the legislature that is not blessed or approved by the oil and gas industry.
MATTHEWS: Well, was that all part of “Let the good times roll” down there? Was the attitude, You‘ve got to live with the oil industry?
MATTHEWS: You just got to live with them.
GAUTREAUX: Well, you know, the people of Louisiana have recognized that that was a way that we have made our living in south Louisiana since 1947, and actually before. But the beginning of the offshore oil industry was in ‘47. Of course, you know, we appreciate that industry that has supported us so well.
But at the same time, there are things that—that the industry has provided for us that we don‘t really appreciate that much, and that‘s, you know, the intrusion into our marshes that have caused coastal erosion.
GAUTREAUX: Now, I‘m not complaining and saying that they‘re totally responsible for our coastal erosion because there‘s a natural—a natural effect that‘s causing that. But they have exacerbated the problem with the—now—and have learned since then that there‘s a better way to do it.
MATTHEWS: How do they exacerbate the erosion, the oil companies?
GAUTREAUX: Well, whenever you put a canal through the marshes, especially one directly from one—from the open gulf into an open—to a well, you‘re inviting that water to come in through wave action.
MATTHEWS: I got you.
GAUTREAUX: And that wave wash causes loss of land.
MATTHEWS: OK, you‘re pretty pessimistic about the government getting the money from BP. Why do you think BP, which is one of the richest corporations—why do you think the government can‘t grab every dollar that we need to pay for this clean-up from them? Why are you pessimistic about this campaign to get justice here? Because the language they‘ve been using when they say, All legitimate claims, that careful language? What leads you to believe you‘re going to...
MATTHEWS: Well, you‘ve obviously been fighting oil industry. What do you do to win?
GAUTREAUX: Well, Chris, you know, we talk about being too dependent on foreign oil and that we need more domestic oil. But is BP a U.S. company? No. It‘s from Britain. You know, we‘ve got Shell is from Holland. I don‘t know, is that—is that domestic oil or is it—once it‘s in their hands, is it domestic oil or is it foreign oil?
MATTHEWS: Oh, it would seem to get (ph) to be our oil the minute it‘s spilled. Anyway, thank you, Senator Butch Gautreaux. Thanks so much for joining us. Your pessimism has inflicted itself on me tonight. I hope...
MATTHEWS: I hop—I hope those people pay for the mess they made.
GAUTREAUX: And I‘m sorry for that, Chris. I‘m—you know, I‘m very hopeful that we‘re going to get through this, and we‘ll see what happens.
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you very much, Senator.
GAUTREAUX: Thanks, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s go to Mike Papantonio, who‘s been on before. Mike, let me ask you this, Mike. This is the hottest question in the world. I don‘t know whether this is going to end up just being a legal issue. It seems to me it‘s a conservation issue. You‘re supposed to leave the land better than you found it. You learn that in Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. We are leaving this Gulf of Mexico an oil pit.
Let me ask you this question. What do you mean—what do you think the president meant by sending Eric Holder down there, the AG? And what does it mean to you as an attorney in litigation here?
MIKE PAPANTONIO, ATTORNEY FOR FAMILIES SUING BP: I hope he‘s sending a message that he‘s back in control of this case. Eric Holder has the chance to do wonderful things here, if he‘ll take his Covington, Burling hat off. That‘s where he came up as a silk stocking corporate defense lawyer. He knows what a sociopath corporation looks like because he‘s had to defend them in the past. The truth is, he‘s going to find out what he found out as a defense lawyer, that this corporation is doing everything just like the corporations he used to defend.
Look, right now, we have this corporation saying the craziest things. I mean, today we hear that the turtles and the sharks and the dolphins that are dying—they‘re not dying because of BP oil. We hear that the tarballs on the beach aren‘t their tarballs. We‘re hearing that that 25-mile undersea plume is not their plume.
So Eric Holder has the right to help this president. He‘s going to do one of two things here, Chris. He‘s going to help this presidency out of this terrible crisis and do what he should do as a top cop, or he‘s got to be as Covington, Burling corporate defense mode in his mind, and he‘s going to think like the corporation, to their benefit rather than their detriment. I‘m hoping that he‘ll be the top cop, he‘ll go after them, even though he defended companies like this in the past. He defended oil and gas. He defended pharmacy. He defended SEC Companies. But he‘s got to say, I can save this presidency by doing my job. And I hope he‘ll do that.
MATTHEWS: Let me just ask you, as an attorney, how do you let—how could BP make these claims before a jury? I mean, a jury of any—wherever you put that jury together, anywhere in the United States, and you say, BP did not cause the damage we‘re looking at right now, they would laugh at you from the first second. You would lose everything in that court finding. Billions of dollars would go if a jury ever heard such a comical defense.
PAPANTONIO: I agree.
MATTHEWS: Do you honestly believe they‘re going to go before a jury and say, We didn‘t cause the oil spill, BP?
PAPANTONIO: Chris, I‘ll tell you, I‘ve been in front of juries on cases that big, where they have made outrageous claims. They—here‘s what they—here‘s what they want to embrace. They know that there‘s an American public out there that‘ll believe just about anything. That‘s how we get—you know, that‘s how we get Brit Humes and Glenn Becks and Rush Limbaughs in the media, because the public will believe most anything if it‘s sold properly.
Let me tell you what BP‘s doing right now as we speak. They‘re focusing these issues. They‘ve got people in a room and they‘re saying, How is this idea selling? Is the idea selling that it‘s not our problem, it‘s somebody else‘s problem? Does that sell? They‘ll focus it to death. By the time we‘re in trial with them, they‘ll take all those focused issues and they‘ll put them in front of a jury.
Now, it‘s our job, obviously, to cut through all that, and we‘re pretty good at that. But the truth is, they‘re being advised right now that they‘re bulletproof if they‘ll just stick to a game plan, and that is to have -- - you know, we have a society out here that‘s somewhat naive on issues like this. That‘s why we have a whole tea bagger culture down here on the coast. But the truth is...
MATTHEWS: You‘ve got all the lingo down, don‘t you! Tea bagger!
MATTHEWS: You‘ve got them all down. Go ahead.
PAPANTONIO: It‘s the truth. Look, let me tell you something. The only place they‘re going to win this case is south Texas. You know why?
PAPANTONIO: Because they employ everybody in south Texas. They‘ve packed the court with federal Republican judges down there. They can win down there, maybe. But they‘re not going to win anywhere else.
MATTHEWS: OK, let me ask you about—where‘s the state of litigation? You‘re pretty—giving us hellfire here, and I don‘t blame you. There‘s a mood out there you probably captured. My attitude—I get up in the morning, I am so angry about this situation. I don‘t even know how angry I can get at the president, the oil companies, at the failure to understand they‘ve dug too deep, they can‘t even—they didn‘t have a safety plan. They‘re on plan D now, this cut-and-cap. They‘re improvising. I mean, I don‘t know how to start to blame it with.
Years ago, I investigated the oil industry and found out there‘s nobody watching them. There is no federal watchdog. They‘ve managed to create a complete self-regulatory regime, which means no regulation. They do what they want to do to make money. And if they lose some oil (ph), they make up for it, as you say, with smart lawyers. Anyway, Mike Papantonio, sir, thank you for coming on the show. We‘ll have you back.
PAPANTONIO: Thank you, Chris.
MATTHEWS: And Butch Gautreaux, thank you, Senator, for coming on.
GAUTREAUX: Thank you, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Coming up: The crisis in the gulf is testing President Obama like never before. Who‘s in charge of the White House? And is the president in danger of sustaining some long-term damage here, like the Iranian hostage crisis did to Carter. And I was there.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: It‘s another case of resume inflation regarding a military record. Mark Kirk, the Republican running for Senate out in Illinois, has been touting that he won the Navy‘s prestigious Intelligence Officer of the Year award for his service during the NATO conflict with Serbia back in the ‘90s. He did so in his official biography—official biography in a House committee hearing in 2002, even on C-Span. But Kirk never won that award. He was part of a unit that won an award for outstanding service, not an individual merit. And this weekend, Kirk admitted over the weekend to having misidentified the award he got. Kirk‘s in a tight race for the Senate out there, wants the seat once held by President Obama, and something like this could be a difference-maker.
HARDBALL returns after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEN. COLIN POWELL ®, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Whether it‘s Army, Coast Guard, local forces, it is time for a comprehensive total attack on this problem to protect the shoreline, to protect the livestock, to protect the wetlands, but most of all, to give people in that part of our country a sense of hope that this is going to be solved.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, that‘s what you call a command presence. There he is. Welcome back to HARDBALL that was General Colin Powell, of course, giving his prescription for leadership in the gulf oil spill disaster. Should President Obama adopt the Powell approach? And who in the White House administration is in charge of the oil spill response?
Charles Blow is a columnist for “The New York Times,” Mark Halperin, senior political analyst at “Time” magazine.
Charles, I want to start with you. In your column, it seems to be there‘s a lot of unified opinion on this, that there‘s a lack of a clear command structure, a clear sense of chain of command, that the president doesn‘t seem to be acting like commander-in-chief of this country. He seems to be acting like a liberal senator from Illinois, with opinions but no power. And now your thoughts? Those were mine.
CHARLES BLOW, “NEW YORK TIMES”: Well, I mean, I guess where I come down on this is that the president has to make a connection, make sure the people know that he feels their pain, make sure people know that he is connected to them and their frustration and their anger and their—in some cases, you know, in Louisiana—I‘m from Louisiana—a bit of panic about the situation.
And we keep getting a president, when those issues arise, who seems to distance himself. And I kind of—you know, I don‘t really break with the group who says, you know, that he doesn‘t like emotion because it‘s—you know, he‘s more logical and he‘s more cerebral, because he loves emotion when he‘s evoking emotion. When it‘s about hope and change and when it‘s on that end of the spectrum, he loves it. It‘s just that he doesn‘t connect as well when it‘s on the other side of the spectrum, when people are hurting. And I think that that is a real problem for him.
And I think that he has to get to the point where he‘s not wading out into the middle of the water and realizing he hasn‘t done enough on issue after issue, whether that be health care, whether that be the gulf disaster, and then trying to back-pedal because then it looks like you‘re trying to save yourself for political reasons, and that doesn‘t go over well, either.
And I‘m not exactly sure what his thinking is, you know, on this particular issue, particularly the people of southern Louisiana. Even during Katrina, he said he was going to make that a big priority. When he finally got around to going to Louisiana, to New Orleans, he was there for such a short period of time, they were calling it the “daiquiri summit.” He flew back out of there and went to a fundraiser.
This time, he went down again, picked up a few tarballs off a beach and flew back to vacation. I mean, at some point, he has to be smart enough to realize that he has to do better by the people of south Louisiana, or you‘re going to get to the point where you‘re going to have a Kanye moment, where somebody‘s going to say, President Obama doesn‘t care about bayou people.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to—let me go to Mark Halperin, the excellent author of the excellent book “Game Change.” Is this a game-changer for him, what‘s happening right now?
MARK HALPERIN, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, “TIME”: Well, it may be.
I think he‘s got a problem as long as the oil is flowing.
But I—I really respectfully and strongly dissent from the view that the president is not doing enough. I have long thought, as many of our colleagues have, that he may not always be connecting emotionally as possible. But, from the first days of this, as best I can tell, the administration has put a lot of focus on it. They were onto it before the White House press corps was onto it as a big story.
They have put a lot of resources down there. There‘s now someone clearly in control. I think Thad Allen should have been more obviously in control early on. Carol Browner, Robert Gibbs, this is getting no shortage of attention substantively. But there‘s no much they can do. The president could give the best speech of his life. As long as the oil is flowing, they have got a problem.
MATTHEWS: Should the president have left BP as the primary instrument of—of fixing this problem, left them to do it?
HALPERIN: There‘s no...
MATTHEWS: You first, Mark.
HALPERIN: There‘s no indication that they had any other choice but to do that.
I think they should have figured out a way, again, just optically, to distance themselves from BP before this weekend. I think that was a P.R. mistake.
HALPERIN: But every expert I have heard says the same thing. BP has to be the one who mechanically tries to solve the problem, under the supervision and direction of the federal government.
CHARLES M. BLOW, COLUMNIST, “THE NEW YORK TIMES”: I agree...
MATTHEWS: Let me tell you, let me share with you a memory, guys—and maybe it‘s relevant—I think it is—that back on the Sunday before the 1982 presidential -- 1980 presidential campaign, I was flying around with President Carter.
And I think what happened to the Carter presidency, when he was in a very tight race with President—with Ronald Reagan—it was a very close race to the very end. And on a Sunday right before the election, we sat there and waited for the mullahs to change their mind or make up their mind on releasing the hostages.
And it became crystal clear to everybody, Democrat, Republican, undecided, that the mullahs were in charge, that Jimmy Carter was impotent. He had no control over the situation. He was waiting for them to do what they felt like doing. At that moment, my hunch is, the American people said, this president can‘t do anything. The mullahs are making all the decisions.
If BP is the latter-day mullahs, and they‘re making all the decisions and all these things, and all he is, is an observer, I think people want the chief of—well, the chief of state to do something.
Charles, then Mark.
BLOW: Well, that‘s—I agree. And I agree with Mark on the point that there may not be much more that they could have done. I mean, I‘m not laying this on the—the president‘s—the fault—the blame for the spill on the president at all.
It‘s the way the response is handled that creates the political danger for the president, you know, the fact that we don‘t have anyone that we recognize. Thad Allen, great. It seems like he‘s doing a great job. That‘s not someone that I recognize as part of the Obama team.
BLOW: The fact that there‘s no face of the Obama team that goes out to a microphone every day and updates us on what‘s happening.
BLOW: What we get is information from BP, which we now realize we can‘t trust anything that BP is saying. They keep changing, you know—to a point, they kept changing how much oil they thought was actually being pumped out of that pipe.
Then they come up with a new catchphrase, a clever little name for some little trick they‘re going to dry, and it fails.
BLOW: Well, I don‘t trust that anymore. I want to hear someone that I trust from—from this government, this administration to come to a microphone and say this is what is happening now.
HALPERIN: Charles, who would do that for...
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about what—what—in the old days, Jim Baker, for George Bush Sr., would have been the guy out front. He would have been basically the COO of this operation.
Does the president need to name a COO, someone who speaks for him day to day, who is in fact the operating engineer here or the operating executive? What do you think, Mark?
HALPERIN: He‘s been named. It‘s been Thad Allen for a while.
MATTHEWS: But he‘s not a Obama guy.
HALPERIN: Well, yes, he is. I mean, he‘s been designated by the president. And everybody seems to think he‘s got the right take-charge public image.
HALPERIN: He‘s got expertise, and he‘s got experience in the region. So, I think he‘s a—he‘s a pretty good choice. I think they should have elevated him more substantively or—or not substantively, but symbolically, earlier.
But I think this is the same problem the administration has on the economy, too. They—they throw lot of people at it. They‘re very high on Carol Browner now going out and speaking as well. Robert Gibbs speaks on it.
I think that‘s a problem the same, as I say, as on the economy. I don‘t want the president of the United States down there every day. He‘s got more to do than this, just this. This is a huge problem, but it has received a huge amount of his attention in private. He‘s a substance guy. He‘s a rational guy. He‘s putting a lot of brain power on how to solve it.
But I say again, until the well is capped, he‘s got a problem that no amount of P.R. is going to solve.
MATTHEWS: Should—gentlemen, last question—should the president be exploring, as president of the United States, alternatives to relying on BP? Should he be shopping with MIT, with the other oil companies around the world? Should he be going to the smartest people in the country in terms of engineering, not eggheads with Nobel Prizes, but people that know how to fix engineering challenges, Red Adair types?
Should he be going off, looking for those people, or just relying on BP?
You first, Mark.
HALPERIN: My inner Dennis Kucinich says absolutely. He cannot trust BP, which is a for-profit company, to do...
Is he doing it? Is he going out looking for alternatives to BP‘s know-how? That‘s what we don‘t know.
MATTHEWS: Charles, do we know that? Do we know if he‘s out there looking?
BLOW: Well, today, I saw a report that they have called in James Cameron to help to consult about how to get it stopped. I think they‘re talking to everybody.
MATTHEWS: Why? He‘s a moviemaker.
BLOW: I know. But they called in him to talk to him about it. He was in one of the planning meetings.
I think they‘re—they‘re talking to everybody. But I think the problem is that doing it at the end of the process is a problem. We haven‘t set up a situation where...
MATTHEWS: It‘s not the end, Charles.
MATTHEWS: It‘s the beginning.
MATTHEWS: And it‘s not even the beginning or the end. It‘s not the end of the beginning.
MATTHEWS: We have got months and months and months of this ahead of us, unless cut-and-cap works.
MATTHEWS: And, basically, plan D doesn‘t look much better than plan C, although I have no idea.
It‘s just a depressing, disastrous situation for this country. We‘re destroying one of our natural—part of national—national habitat here, and nobody seems to know what to do about it.
And that is the scariest thing I have seen. Jack Kennedy once said the problems of man are manmade. They can be solved by man. We created this problem. God didn‘t. And we ain‘t been able to solve it. And that‘s pretty darn depressing for most people watching the show right now. And we‘re hoping our president can do a better job than BP.
Anyway, guys, thank you Charles Blow.
Thank you, Mark Halperin.
HALPERIN: Thanks, Chris.
MATTHEWS: I agree with your column today, Charles.
MATTHEWS: Up next: Who‘s got the hotter hand politically these days, the president or the first lady? She‘s on the campaign trail helping a big—that Democrat out in Nevada, Harry Reid. They will do anything for Harry Reid.
Catch the “Sideshow” coming up next.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. Now for the “Sideshow.”
First, a thriller in Wasilla. Sarah Palin‘s got a new neighbor out in Wasilla, Alaska, journalist Joe McGinniss, who is writing a book on the ex-governor set to come out next year. In the past week, Palin has taken to Facebook and conservative radio to rev up anger at the author after he rented a house that‘s next to her property.
Here‘s McGinniss, who wrote that great book “The Selling of the President,” on “The Today Show” saying he has no intention of spying on the Palins.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE TODAY SHOW”)
JOE MCGINNISS, AUTHOR/JOURNALIST: I‘m not observing them at all.
I‘m here to talk to people who have known them for 40 years in Wasilla.
And I think it‘s probably a lesson for the American people of the power Palin has to incite hatred, and her willingness and readiness to do it. She has pushed a button and unleashed the hounds of hell. And now they‘re out there slathering and barking and growling.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
Well, Palin, who knows how to stir up a mob, has issued a fatwa against McGinniss for daring to rent that vacant house next door.
Well, time for tonight‘s “Big Number.”
Michelle Obama flew out to Nevada today for back-to-back events with Senator Harry Reid, who is facing a very tough reelection fight this November. It‘s an interesting move for Michelle. She hasn‘t made any forays into the campaign trail since 2008.
Here‘s the number that explains why she‘s out there today. What does Michelle Obama‘s favorability look like nationally? Fifty-five percent favorable, just 14 percent unfavorable, a far better ratio than the president‘s own.
Harry Reid hoping some of that Michelle Obama stardust will fall on him -- 55 percent favorability—love her to come on to HARDBALL some day—come on, Michelle—right here on HARDBALL—tonight‘s “Big Number.”
Up next: Another top al Qaeda leader is killed in a drone attack in Pakistan. Can Dick Cheney and President Obama‘s critics really say this afternoon that this administration isn‘t doing enough to fight terrorists?
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
HAMPTON PEARSON, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I‘m Hampton Pearson with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”
Stocks seesawing to a negative finish—the Dow Jones industrials slipping 112 points, the S&P 500 falling 18 points, and the Nasdaq sliding 34.
High volatility was the name of the game again today on light volume coming out of the three-day weekend. BP losing billions of dollars in market value, as shares plummeted 15 percent on word Attorney General Eric Holder has opened civil and criminal investigations into the Gulf oil spill.
But there were at least a couple of sweet spots. Shares in the Hershey Company shot up 2.5 percent after reaching a tentative agreement with unionized employees.
And RadioShack up closer to 3 percent after report of a possible buyout offer from the Blackstone Group.
In economic news, a slight seasonal slowdown in manufacturing was in line with expectations. U.S. manufacturing has now been in a growth mode for 10 straight months.
That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to
MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL.
Israel is facing international condemnation and diplomatic isolation after their botched commando raid on board a Turkish aid flotilla bound for Gaza, which resulted in nine deaths. The incident has put further stress on the Middle East peace process and heightened tensions between the Netanyahu government of Israel and the Obama administration.
Janine Zacharia is the “Washington Post” Jerusalem bureau chief.
And there she is.
Janine, thank you so much for staying up tonight over there in Israel. You have already filed your story.
Give us the best description you have got so far of what happened on the deck of that ship, that Turkish ship.
JANINE ZACHARIA, JERUSALEM BUREAU CHIEF, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:
Well amazingly, Chris, even 48 hours after the whole incident, nearly, we don‘t have a definitive picture of what precisely happened.
The activists who are just starting to be released from Israeli custody or flying home or being deported are saying that the Israelis shot first, either fired warning shots or something else as they approached the ship. And the Israelis have been showing video over and over showing Israeli naval commandos in very dramatic fashion landing on the ship—climbing down a rope from a helicopter and then being beaten by activists on the ship with different kinds of metal and wood rods and other kinds of weapons.
MATTHEWS: Yes, we‘re looking at that right now.
Is there something deceptive about those pictures? Or do you think you can get a—well, look at all that mayhem up there. We‘re watching obviously what you‘ve seen, which is all these—this amazing mayhem of people running around, surrounding these guys.
Let me go over this. What—what do you think is the main criticism of Israel in this regard by, if there is such a thing, an objective observer? What would be the main criticism?
ZACHARIA: Well, I mean, the one—Israel is being—obviously facing a lot of criticism for a lot of different ways they carried out this operation.
But I think a lot of people are saying—and the main question is, OK, you want to maintain your blockade of Gaza. Was there a better way to do this? And it‘s not only internationally that you‘re hearing that. That‘s the dominant question here in Israel today. Was there another way to prevent the ship from moving towards Gaza?
And one of the things I think it illustrates is both the—the state of ties between Israel and Turkey. The main ship that was a problem was from Turkey sent with Prime Minister Erdogan‘s full support. And Israel wasn‘t able to persuade Turkey to divert it to the Israeli port in Ashdod. And neither was the United States, Israel‘s top ally.
So, the ship came. Second, was there another way that they could have gone about this besides dramatic military fashion, 4:00 a.m., landing from a helicopter to a group of people who Israel already knew ahead of time was more radical than other groups from previous flotillas?
MATTHEWS: Did they have any—they had no intimation—just to get to the technical details, they didn‘t know these guys would all have knives and clubs, did they? They didn‘t know that was coming, or crowbars, whatever they were hitting them with.
ZACHARIA: Well, I just spoke to a—you know, I just spoke to a very senior Israeli naval commander who said they did in fact anticipate resistance, but they didn‘t anticipate what the Israelis are calling a lynch involving these different metal batons—I don‘t know if you‘re still seeing the pictures...
MATTHEWS: Yes, we‘re looking at it now.
ZACHARIA: ... and—and other kinds of knives.
Some of the soldiers—some of the soldiers were knifed. The Israelis say that, of the 20 commandos or so, naval commandos who landed, at least two of their guns were taken by the activists and then the Israelis were shot. So, a lot of this is from the Israeli perspective.
We haven‘t a chance to really confirm it. But a lot of the soldiers are now in—who participated are in the hospitals with these various kinds of wounds.
MATTHEWS: I just read your paper‘s editorial this morning, Janine. I don‘t know if you got a chance to see it. And your paper is fairly pro-Israeli, as most American papers are.
But they made the point that this could move—this incident and the way it‘s been portrayed in Israel and the way it‘s played politically could force Netanyahu to move to the center, to form some new coalition that‘s more like Israeli public opinion.
Is that too much of an expectation politically out of this thing?
ZACHARIA: Yes, I see absolutely, absolutely no sign of this at all.
He‘s got the full backing right now of his right-wing coalition. He even has people in the opposition, the opposition leader, Tzipi Livni, rallying around Israel‘s right to prevent these kind of aid flotillas from approaching Gaza.
ZACHARIA: And what‘s been interesting today, Chris, is that, amid all the criticism internationally, you know, perhaps a little breakdown in ties with Turkey, condemnations at the U.N., nobody in Israel really in the mainstream here is questioning Israel‘s overall approach to Gaza, something that the United States and everybody wants to see, a re-evaluation of the blockade. That‘s the core problem here.
Instead, everybody is focused on the tactical problems Israel had in seizing the ship.
MATTHEWS: Well thank you so much, Janine. I didn‘t like the way that housing decision was made when Joe Biden was over there, when I met you over on that trip. But I think this one is an unfair shot at Israel, very unfair. And I agree with the “Post” on this. I would like to see the government get more moderate, but maybe they are two different questions.
Thank you, Janine Zacharia from the “Washington post” for that great report.
Let‘s go to another international story right now, good news for us, I think you‘d have to agree. United States officials believe that one of the most wanted terrorists in the world, certainly one of our biggest enemies, the number three leader of al Qaeda, al Masri, who served as bin Laden‘s prime conduit—he‘s the guy that funneled the money to the 9/11 hijackers—was killed in a drone strike in Pakistan‘s tribal areas two weeks ago.
For more on this development, let‘s turn to NBC terrorism analyst Roger Cressey. Roger, these drone strikes are pretty lethal. How do they zero in on this really bad guy? How do they catch a guy with a rocket attack like this?
ROGER CRESSEY, NBC NEWS TERRORISM ANALYST: Lethal and extremely effective, Chris. It‘s through good intelligence work. It‘s through the CIA, elements of the U.S. Special Forces, sometimes working with the Pakistani intelligence service, sometimes not. It‘s using eyes in the sky. It‘s all the elements of the intelligence community together.
And then sometimes it‘s just some good luck. You need to have luck in this business. And this was a case where all source intelligence, which is the official term, is used to identify where Yazid was. And they were able to take him out in a very effective strike.
MATTHEWS: Cost-benefit—there‘s always collateral damage. Certainly we‘re invading or going in—to put it bluntly, we‘re going into Pakistani airspace, Pakistani territory and killing people. How much thought is there to that, in terms of our relations with Pakistan, to get a bad guy like this?
CRESSEY: A lot of thought. We need to keep in mind, we‘re doing this with the cooperation of Pakistan. There‘s this popular myth out there that we‘re doing this and we‘re violating Pakistan‘s sovereignty. That would be true if the Pakistani government wasn‘t supportive of it. They may not like all the ways we‘re doing it. But, at the strategic level, it‘s in their interests, because the Pakistani Taliban and al Qaeda, the two groups we go after and kill, are a direct threat to the government in Islamabad, too.
So there may be some tactical differences, but at the strategic level, they‘re fully behind this program.
MATTHEWS: I always believe that countries are moved by its middle class. Do the middle class people in Islamabad, the people who are in the developed part of Pakistan, are they with us on this?
CRESSEY: Well they‘re torn, I think. When you talk to either journalists or diplomats who come back from Pakistan, they understand, on one hand, why there‘s a military imperative to do this. They resent the fact that the Pakistani government can‘t take care of it themselves.
And, of course, there‘s always the conspiracy theories that run rampant in that part of the world as to what the United States is really up to. That‘s part of our biggest challenge. Because this is a covert action, even though we see the effects of it all the time, and we‘re not talking about it publicly, it‘s very difficult to sell elements of the Pakistani population an why this is necessary. That‘s why the Pakistani government will, every now and then, admonish us or criticize us. But they‘re not pulling the plug on the program. That tells you why they like it.
MATTHEWS: Track record on President Obama tracking down terrorists compared to the previous administration? How is he doing?
CRESSEY: He‘s doing extremely well. He‘s launched military strikes not just in Iraq and Afghanistan, but in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia. The level of cooperation with intelligence liaisons is outstanding. So if you look at the Predator program alone, Chris, under the Obama administration, we‘ve killed at least two dozen senior al Qaeda and Taliban officials. Under the Bush administration, it was probably that same level, maybe a little bit less. And what we talking about here, less than two years of a presidency.
So you look at Predator by itself, it‘s been extremely effective and this administration has used it extremely well.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, Roger Cressey. Good, crisp report.
Up next, some stunning news, Al and Tipper Gore are separating after 40 years of marriage. More on that in a moment. This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back. Former Vice President Al Gore and his wife Tipper shocked friends and the country today by announcing that they‘re separating after 40 years of marriage. For more on what happened, let‘s turn to two people who spent many years covering the Gores, “Washington Post” reporter Lois Romano, and the “Politico‘s” editor in chief John Harris. Lois, did this surprise you? Was this something out of nowhere?
LOIS ROMANO, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: It totally surprised me because they bought a nine million dollar house just last month for a winter vacation home. And it shocked everybody. Their closest friends have no idea what this is about.
MATTHEWS: Where did they buy the house?
ROMANO: California, Montecito (ph). They said it‘s a five-bedroom, oceanfront house.
MATTHEWS: Wow. And they‘re loaded right now, too. He‘s been doing very well.
ROMANO: They‘ve been doing very well. So—and they celebrated their 40th anniversary two weeks ago. No one knows where this came from.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s me go right now to John Harris. You‘ve written “The Survivor.” You‘re an expert on the Clintons. There‘s a certain irony here, well, that‘s obvious, but let‘s go on, your thoughts?
JOHN HARRIS, “POLITICO”: Well look, the Clintons, people were fascinated by their marital problems. But they seemed like something out of a tabloid, remote from the experiences or really the understanding I think from a lot of—of a lot of people. The Gores, to me and I think to a lot of people, always seemed very human, that their lives, both the good things in their lives and the difficulties they faced, kind of very familiar, accessible.
And I think that‘s why a lot of people are going to be struck by this news and saddened by it.
ROMANO: You know, one thing, Chris, to think about is that there have been two distinct phases now in Al Gore‘s life. The first 30 years with Tipper, they had a common goal. It might not really have been her goal, but it was a common goal, nonetheless. And that is the fight for the presidency. Once that was over, they had to kind of pivot. He did very well for himself and he did a lot of interesting things. And maybe they just didn‘t pivot together. She had to find some interests, too.
MATTHEWS: When he did “The Inconvenient Truth,” did she get into that whole thing about climate change with him?
ROMANO: No, she didn‘t. She does her own stuff. She does music, and she does her photography. She sees friends a lot. I think she has an active life, but she‘s under the radar.
MATTHEWS: Yes, I wonder. I mean, this could be just a question of, you know, different personalities. I don‘t know them that well. I know them like a lot of people know them. I think Tipper is very likable. You meet her, she‘s fun. Al‘s deadly serious, generally, can be fun. John Harris, this thing about this—I don‘t know why we‘re talking about this, except that it‘s fascinating. It just is. I mean, this was the stable old girlfriend, met her in school. She was the girl, the sweetheart. Everybody sort of sees the obvious connection between the two. They seem very regular and in love.
And then, all of a sudden, this thing ends and other more complicated relations prevail, survive. It‘s fascinating to some people. There you see it right there. Let‘s not kid ourselves. There it is, an ironic picture. Who would have predicted which marriage would have survived all these years? There it is, the Clintons beating out the competition, if you will. I don‘t want to be lighthearted about this, but who knows what‘s going on anyway. Your thoughts, John Harris.
HARRIS: Chris, all important relationships are complicated. That‘s true of the Clintons and the Gores. Just to echo one point that Lois made, Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton always did have a shared project, which was the Clinton brand and their ambitions on the national stage. Even at the most difficult periods between them, they had that shared bond.
I think in the Gore‘s case, both of them had some degree of ambivalence about public life. And I definitely that was true of Tipper, who sometimes did wilt under the public spot light. I had seen her—
MATTHEWS: You‘re so smart, Harris. That‘s so smart. Bill and Hillary are committed to public policy as their primary aim in life. They‘re good at it. They‘re good at the politic. They‘re good at the policy. They‘re wonks to the core. They‘re committed to the core, not to making money, but public life, itself. Whereas the Gores, I think you do see, even with Al, the way he accepted the concession in 2000, there‘s something wistful about that guy.
ROMANO: Well he just—you know, he was on a track put there by his father. Everything he did was one step closer to that. Privately, he was a different man. He was a funny, engaging man privately, but kind of rigid. And I think he became the person he was going to become after he lost the presidency in 2000, and she developed her interests.
He said once that he was very lucky that at every stage in their life they found each other, and maybe this time they just couldn‘t.
MATTHEWS: Yeah. I‘m looking at myself on the camera and saying, I don‘t understand what I‘m talking about here. I‘m so far, John, beyond what I know anything about here. I‘m a political watcher, student. I‘m looking at this. It‘s only fascinating because that kiss, I guess. I mean, let‘s be honest. That‘s the iconic event of the 2000 election in many ways.
ROMANO: It was his message to the world that I have a good marriage. It was almost a counter to what the Clintons were—
MATTHEWS: Look at this. It‘s Wolverine stuff. What is his thing here? What was that about. It did go on much longer than we‘re showing here, by the way.
HARRIS: They did not obviously win any points for subtlety for that lengthy PDA at the 2000 convention in Los Angeles. I do think it was—that was a very scripted moment, I believe. I do think it was genuine and unscripted the fact she humanized Al Gore, who, you know, as he would joke, himself, is—
MATTHEWS: Do you know that there‘s never been, apparently according to our producer—I‘ve got to break in with the big news here for people who can talk about this show tonight. Brooke Bower has just told me in my ear, one of our top producer, that there‘s never been a recorded case of a divorce by a president or vice president after they left office. I‘m sorry. Aaron Burr. Well, that‘s the Gore Vidal situation. Who knows?
ROMANO: Wow, that‘s very interesting. I don‘t know—
MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you. I don‘t know what that meant. Anyway, thank you, Lois Romano. Thank you, John Harris. I‘m going to be giving you my finishing thoughts tonight, just as they are, about this. Talk about a tricky subject, but I‘m going to talk about it. I do have some thoughts I‘ve saving about Al and Tipper Gore, who I have known quite a while. You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight on that touchy subject of Al and Tipper Gore. When I heard today of the announcement they were separating, I thought back to something my old boss Tip O‘Neill once said on this matter. I had mentioned to him about someone who had just gotten divorced after 33 years of marriage, and how sad that was. The veteran Speaker, who had so many men, politicians like himself, come to him for counsel over the year, person counsel that is, said something to me at that point that I‘ll never forget. He said, “you never know what‘s in another man‘s heart.”
Nobody knows about anything about anybody else‘s marriage. Nobody knows what it is, how it works, why it works. It‘s the one really creative part of our life. It‘s the one canvass on which we are all, all of us, men and women, painters. Al Gore has always been a hard guy to figure. Stiff, even weird in public, he can be a charming, regular guy in private. Or he can be brutally official, a cold defender of his higher position.
Who knows where he is headed right now? F. Scott Fitzgerald said there are no second acts in American life, but certainly Al Gore has been a smash in his second life, second act. If the classiest, most patriotic thing he ever did was the way in which he accepted that 2000 election result and the Supreme Court‘s ruling, the most important may be the latter day campaign he‘s waged to warn us about climate change.
There‘s been a lot of nobility in this guy, his loyalty to Bill Clinton when it was not in his interest to be loyal, his acceptance that everyone else would have fought—his acceptance of that win on the part of George W. Bush back in 2000. I don‘t think Bush would have taken it that easily. Anyway, that verdict, he took it.
Lastly, his crusading on a matter that, if he‘s right about it,
could be the most important. The son of a major U.S. senator, Al Gore,
was raised a political prince. But he never, unlike that other fellow,
George W.—never, even though he benefited—never benefited—or he
benefited from that intercession of the Supreme Court—George W. Bush
this guy, Al Gore, never thought of himself as possessing some inherited right to rule.
What he did accept was the need to lead this country the best way he could by teaching, and on a matter of global warming that would come back, if we don‘t take care of it, to haunt us.
I wish both the Gores well. And it‘s not sad. They have the right to their decision. Tip O‘Neill was right. They have a right to their separate hearts.
That‘s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us. Right now, it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz.
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