Guests: Lynn Sweet, Todd Harris, Steve McMahon, Mike Wiggins, Mark
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Forty-five days and counting.
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington. Leading off tonight: Trying to cap it. BP managed to slice off that pipe with a pair of oversized shears, but the cap placed over it to siphon off oil may not fit tightly now. As we wait to see just how successful cut-and-cap is, Florida‘s panhandle is bracing for oil to wash up on its beaches today. In a moment, I‘ll ask the mayor of Pensacola what he thinks of the response to this disaster.
And President Obama is set to return to the Louisiana, the coastline, tomorrow, his second trip in a week, which raises the question, has this disaster torpedoed his agenda? Can the White House really focus on anything else this summer, like jobs and the economy, as long as oil keeps gushing in the gulf?
Plus, the federal corruption trial of impeached Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich began today, as he tries to rope in the White House into the case. Is the national media blitz—or if the national media blitz is any indication, it promises a summer of second city political theater.
Also, is there really anything scandalous in the White House‘s sloppy attempts to clear the field for Arlen Specter and Colorado senator Michael Bennet, or is this just politics being jumped on? Our strategists will go at it.
And “Let Me Finish” tonight with some thoughts on how the president can revive America‘s spirit amid the gulf mess.
Let‘s start with the latest on the oil spill and BP‘s efforts to contain it, such as they are. Mike Wiggins is the mayor of Pensacola, Florida. Mr. Mayor, I can only imagine what‘s in your heart right now. What‘s going to happen to your city? What‘s going to happen to the Florida coast?
MAYOR MIKE WIGGINS, PENSACOLA, FLORIDA: Chris, there‘s grave concern here because not only do we have a large oil spill 35 miles off our coast, but we also have what we call an oil sheen, which is a very light amount of oil, which is only seven miles off our coast. The wind‘s blowing in the wrong direction, and it‘s headed our way.
MATTHEWS: So what can you do? What stands between you and BP‘s oil?
WIGGINS: Well, that‘s the problem because—let me tell you this, Chris...
WIGGINS: ... we in Pensacola—well, there—no, there‘s some things we‘re doing. But I‘m telling you, the people in Pensacola, we can handle hurricanes. We know what to do in that one. But this is an unknown. What BP has done, of course, is put out beach-cleaning units. We‘ve put out aerial reconnaissance. We‘ve got booms in place. All of that is going on.
But as we went through that whole process, of course, we had communications problems with BP. We had equipment problems with BP. So there‘s been a lot of questions that need to be answered along the way. And quite frankly, what‘s going to happen at the end is unknown at this point. We‘re going to have to do the best we can.
MATTHEWS: Well, let‘s take a look at this. The National Center for Atmospheric Research put out this computer model of where the oil could go. It‘s around Florida right now and halfway up the East Coast. If you look at this projection, this is pretty scary. You‘re going to be the first target hit in the Florida area. Now, look at this thing. It goes up in this loop current out into—up beyond Cape Hatteras, out into the Atlantic Ocean. A lot of damage, a lot of damage along that route, sir.
WIGGINS: No question, Chris. And the answer to stopping that, of
course, is to cap the well. That has got to be done. If we have this
oil gushing into our gulf for the next month-and-a-half or two months,
just think exactly what‘s going to happen. It‘s going to be an economic
and environmental disaster, quite frankly, if it‘s not already. We have
my citizens in Pensacola are frustrated. They‘re angry. And we‘re very concerned here in the panhandle.
MATTHEWS: Well, you know, here‘s my problem with BP down the line
here. And maybe I‘m beating a dead horse. I don‘t know. But listen to
this. Here‘s what Tony Hayward—he‘s the British guy who‘s head of BP
had to say. He says BP‘s unprepared. He said they‘re unprepared, which—“What is undoubtedly true is that we did not have the tools you would want in your tool kit.”
Well, that‘s clever CEO language, You would not have the tools in your tool kit. But here‘s the Bloomberg headline of a couple days ago. “BP ready for spill 10 times gulf disaster, plan says.” They said in their permit application for drilling in the Gulf of Mexico that they were prepared to handle an oil spill more than 10 times larger than the one we have now off the coast.
So here‘s a company that swore in its documents it could handle a spill 10 times this big, deal with it in a clear-cut, planned way, not this “try something every day”—junk shot, you know, top kill. The latest is cut-and-cap. We keep hearing this new stuff as it comes across the—whatever, their brain waves, every couple days. And yet they claim to have had a plan in place to deal with 10 times the spill. Do you trust BP?
WIGGINS: I‘d say they did not have a plan. If you just look at what‘s happened in the last month or so, they did not have a plan. And Chris, this is why we in the state of Florida are so upset. We do not have offshore drilling here. The city of Pensacola has put out many a resolution opposing offshore drilling because we were concerned about environmental effects of an accident. We were told, so many experts said, It can‘t happen. Well, it did happen, and obviously, the tools are not there to rectify the situation. Very frustrating for those in northwest Florida.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about your part of the country. I mean, it seems to me what everybody knows about Pensacola is flight training, naval flight training. Tell me something else about your city.
WIGGINS: Well, let me tell you about our city, Chris. We have the world‘s most beautiful beaches. We are the oldest city in America, 450 years old. We‘re steeped in history. We have a great military presence. So we have a lot of reasons for people to come to Pensacola. Tourism is a huge industry here, and this particular situation obviously is affecting not only our hotels and restaurants but our entire economy. It‘s very, very disturbing situation insofar as our economy is concerned, as also the environment.
MATTHEWS: Well, as mayor, you probably know most of the lawyers in town. What‘s everybody thinking in terms of your ability to...
MATTHEWS: No, really. I know politics, and you do, too. What do you make of the fact of—the chance of you guys reclaiming all this lost tourism, lost money, from BP? Are their pockets deep enough to pay Pensacola? Just as we begin this route around Florida up to cape Hatteras in the Carolinas, is your city alone going to get its money back from BP for its damage it‘s doing to your economy? Can you get that money in court?
WIGGINS: Well, we had better get it back Chris, because we have been told—BP has said they‘re going to, one, clean up the mess. And two, they‘re going to compensate those who have lost revenues. That is what they have said, that‘s what we‘re going to hold their feet to the fire on because this is what‘s going to make us whole again because this is not just an overnight affair.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let‘s...
WIGGINS: If this oil keeps gushing, this is going to happen for a long time.
MATTHEWS: I want you to join me in catching the key word in the BP ad. Here‘s their new ad that‘s running. Listen for the key word. I think you‘ll hear it as I hear it. Sir, Mr. Mayor, let‘s listen together to BP‘s latest PR ad.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TONY HAYWARD, BP CEO: We will honor all legitimate claims and our clean-up efforts will not come at any cost to taxpayers. To those affected and your families, I‘m deeply sorry.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, we usually like English accents in this country. I‘m not sure we like that one. What do you think of that key word he dropped on us, did you hear it, “legitimate”? In other words...
MATTHEWS: ... you‘re going to have to win this case in court, right?
WIGGINS: Well—well, and Chris, we all have looked at that word for many, many weeks now, and we hope that it‘s not going to cause us problems down the line. BP says they‘re going to make us whole. We‘re going to make that happen.
MATTHEWS: OK, Mr. Mayor, we‘ll stay with you in the next couple weeks as we watch this reality occur. Good luck with everything. And I mean it. Best of fortune to you and the people in Pensacola, especially the military families. There.
WIGGINS: Thank you very much, sir. Thanks for having us.
MATTHEWS: OK, Mark Badger is a businessman from Ft. Lauderdale in Florida. We‘ve been putting out the word. He‘s got an idea about how the oil washing up on the shores can be dealt with. Here‘s a picture, by the way, of the situation. It‘s a boom that‘s higher than the ones used now. We‘ve got a picture of your thing. It‘s so—oil-soaked water can‘t wash over it. It‘s got a skirt, by the way, at the bottom to catch the oil beneath the surface.
Mark, give us a case for your contraption there, if I call it that.
Go ahead, Mark.
MARK BADGER, BUSINESSMAN, FT. LAUDERDALE, FLORIDA: Well...
MATTHEWS: How‘s it work?
BADGER: ... our boom is—OK. Well, the boom works just like a conventional oil boom. The anchoring system is a lot different for it. It will—it‘s designed to stay offshore. It‘s not designed to be used in close. And it‘s designed to stay in place for a long time. It‘s designed to protect the shoreline and the property and to keep oil out of sensitive—sensitive ecological areas.
MATTHEWS: Well, can you put them up in front of Pensacola right now?
BADGER: Yes, I...
MATTHEWS: If somebody gave you the money?
BADGER: ... could put them up—if somebody gave us a purchase order for this boom, we could get it manufactured and get it out there.
MATTHEWS: Well, the name of the company is BP, British Petroleum.
I hope you can get ahold of them. They‘re well know. We just heard...
BADGER: We have tried...
MATTHEWS: Their CEO is Tony Hayward, that well-spoken gentleman we just heard with the British accent. Is he hard to get ahold of?
BADGER: We have contacted BP probably 30 or 40 times. Every time I‘ve spoken to them on the phone, the answer we get is, We receive so many calls, we might call you back, but we probably won‘t. And that‘s exactly what they told me on the phone.
We‘ve submitted the paperwork that they send out through the Web site probably a dozen times. And you know, they don‘t reply. And that‘s not—it‘s not to say that they haven‘t seen it, I just think they‘re overwhelmed by the suggestions that people are trying to bring forward.
MATTHEWS: Well, here‘s the White House number, 202-456-1414 --
202-456-1414. You should probably go through the White House, perhaps through the press office, I think that‘s 2100 -- 456-2100. You might get through that way. They‘re helping, I hear. Anyway, thank you very much, Mark Badger.
Coming up—we‘re going to keep doing this, by the way. Coming up: President Obama is going back to the gulf tomorrow. Has the oil spill crisis taken over his presidency? Is his legislative agenda at the mercy of whether BP can plug this leak? Is BP running the show? We‘ll get back to that next.
And tomorrow night on a special “DATELINE,” inside the cozy relationship between big oil and Washington, plus never before seen video from the night the Deepwater Horizon rig blew up. That‘s “DATELINE” tomorrow on NBC at 9:00 o‘clock. What a great show that‘s going to be for this whole dark story.
Anyway, we‘ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: Wow, the tea party candidate in the Nevada Senate race is surging. Sharron Angle now leads the Republican field, and if she hangs on to win, she‘ll face Senate majority leader Harry Reid come November. Take a look at the new Suffolk poll. Angle has 33 percent, Danny Tarkanian is 26, and one-time favorite Sue Lowden, who would be the toughest opponent, is 25 percent. It‘s still a close race, but Angle, the tea party favorite, has all the momentum. It looks like Reid may be lucky here, but Angle stacks up as the worst against Reid, as I said. A new Research 2000 Daily Kos poll shows Reid leading all three Republicans. He‘s beating Angle by 6, Tarkanian and Lowden by just 4.
HARDBALL returns after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: If jumping up and down and screaming were to fix a hole in the ocean, we‘d have done that five or six weeks ago. We‘d have done that the first night. I think we‘re going to be judged and the president‘ll be judged on our response and our recovery efforts to what we all know now is the worst environmental disaster in our nation‘s history. But pounding on a podium isn‘t going to fix a hole in the ocean.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. That was White House press secretary Robert Gibbs today. Is the oil spill drowning the Obama administration? The president says they‘re in charge, but does it look like they‘re really in control? Chuck Todd‘s NBC News chief White House correspondent and political director. And we also have “Washington Post” columnist Eugene Robinson here. He‘s an MSNBC political analyst.
Chuck, I‘ve got to ask you—you‘re on post at the White House. Have they gone from—they‘re doing Larry King tonight. Are they going from cool to schmaltz?
MATTHEWS: I mean, is this the alternative to cool, to do Larry King?
CHUCK TODD, NBC POLITICAL DIR./WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, I think for him, it has something to do with some sort of anniversary that Larry King is celebrating. So he was able to...
MATTHEWS: The 25th. That‘s right.
TODD: Yes. He was able to get away with that. It was sort of a pre-booked thing type of deal.
But no, look, I think the White House has struggled to get ahead of this story from the very beginning. Ever since the explosion happened on the rig, they‘ve always felt a step behind, a day behind, a week behind. And I think once again, they‘re trying to get their arms around this—this one, and that‘s why they hastily are sending the president back down there tomorrow.
I think they worried that they couldn‘t figure out a way to do it next week. And they‘re going to get him down there. They figure sooner is obviously a lot better than somehow getting him down there later. They know they have this perception problem. They think it‘s unfair that they have it, you know, and they get mad at us in the media for pointing it out and somehow creating—they think we‘re almost creating too much of a story out of this. And yet they‘re reacting to it.
MATTHEWS: Well, let‘s look at the vice president, Vice President Biden, who was on “Charlie Rose” last night. It was a very sophisticated show. I‘m not sure the Biden message was really strong, though. Let‘s listen to his case.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: From my perspective, I think if there‘s any mistake made, that we haven‘t communicated clearly enough what the president has done in this oil spill from the beginning. We were there the first day, the first morning after that wellhead blew and that platform collapsed. We were in the Oval Office. He mobilized everyone in the White House and the West Wing, made it clear that every single asset of the federal government should be made available.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: So what we have here is a failure to communicate.
MATTHEWS: It‘s right out of “Cool Hand Luke” and J.D. Cannon (ph) here...
MATTHEWS: Is the president supposed to say (INAUDIBLE) boss? I mean, what—what‘s going on...
MATTHEWS: Is this going to work?
EUGENE ROBINSON, “WASHINGTON POST,” MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, no. I mean, no. His saying, We have a failure to communicate doesn‘t make it so, and that doesn‘t divert the focus. And much of it is proper (ph) on the White House because, look, it‘s not Barack Obama‘s fault that BP screwed up and the well is leaking and we have an environmental disaster of epic proportions going on. But I think you have to—you know, I think people have the sense that the White House could be doing more, if not to plug the leak, then to contain the oil and contain the damage. And I think...
MATTHEWS: One question. One—I‘m sorry. One question I have for both of you gentlemen—I‘ll start with Chuck—is does the White House have an ongoing effort to try to find solutions independently of BP, Chuck?
TODD: Well, they do. They say that they are doing this, that they have this way that—I‘d say Stephen Chu—his name is no longer Stephen Chu, the energy secretary, it‘s Nobel Prize winner Stephen Chu, right?
TODD: They‘ve made sure every time they mention his name, they throw in that...
TODD: ... Nobel prize winner...
MATTHEWS: Why do they do that? Why do they do that?
TODD: Well, I think it‘s this attempt to say, Hey, look, we‘re getting as many experts as we can to look at this, that they are trying to count on people outside of BP. But I‘ll be honest with you, Chris, it doesn‘t—sometimes—they don‘t—they have yet to communicate to us, OK? I cannot give you a good example of how they are using outside ideas and how they are taking in ideas and figuring out if they work.
You know, you will push them and ask them—for instance, we had the former Shell Oil executive who said, Hey, you know what? Why don‘t they have all these supertankers surrounding this spill and sucking it up? Well, after a few days, they did respond to them. They said, Well, they did look into that, and they said, Well, the oil is too dispersed in the gulf and you can‘t just find all these supertankers, so—but they—they aren‘t making it easy for us to see this. And I think that‘s another part of this perception problem with the public, where the public just wants to see action all the time, and frankly, that‘s just not plausible.
ROBINSON: ... here‘s one—here‘s one thing, Chris. You know, we have heard about Stephen Chu‘s Nobel prize about a million times. Everybody from the administration mentions it all the time, as if—as if it‘s part of a set of talking points.
I think I personally would feel better if I saw a room in Houston full of, you know, the heir to Red Adair or something...
ROBINSON: ... you know, these people who—they don‘t give Nobel prizes for oil drilling. And so if—if you saw a room full of old hands at oil exploration, at wildcat oil drilling or something, undersea exploration, whatever, that image, I think, would go a long way.
Now, I understand there‘s a command center in Houston in which there are people from all these...
MATTHEWS: Yes, like we see NASA. We get all those NASA shots.
Let me go back to Chuck on this.
Chuck, it seems to me they have a conundrum here. There was an old Washington—I want to say this as cleanly as I can. There was an old Washington expression I heard years ago from a Washington bureaucrat. He was like a GS-18.
And he said people don‘t do their best work when they‘re being peed on. Now, that‘s a crude way to put it, but isn‘t that the White House‘s conundrum here? If they start dumping on BP, at the same time, it‘s their only game in town. BP solves the problem. It‘s not going to be very constructive.
So, they really can‘t dump on them or pee on them or whatever, at the same time they‘re asking them to fix the problem.
It‘s funny you bring that up. And you could feel that tension today right here in the White House press briefing room, where I‘m standing. There was a whole bunch of questions about BP‘s credibility. Does the federal government still trust BP all this? And you could hear, on one hand, Robert Gibbs wanted to unload on BP.
TODD: And, on the other hand, he was hesitant to for that very reason.
I think there is a concern that—of what you‘re just saying, which is, if you dump on them too much—I think there‘s a lot of anger at Tony Hayward in particular, the CEO.
TODD: He is not making a lot of friends, that comment about him wanting to get his own life back, and the fact they...
TODD: ... seem to be a little bit on a P.R. campaign, rather than saying, hey, enough with the P.R. campaign, just put all your energy into stopping this leak from the ground.
But they‘re—that tension is there. And you‘re right, Chris. That‘s another fact of life. BP has the technology. Maybe they could get another oil company in with similar technology. But you would still be relying on an outside oil company entity.
ROBINSON: But, see, separate the two theaters of this war, though. You have got a mile down under the Gulf of Mexico, clearly, BP has to be in charge. They‘re the ones who have to plug the leak.
But, up on the surface, there‘s all this oil. And manning the barricades, trying to clean up the marshes and keep the oil away from the marshes, what we see are these BP workers in hazmat suits who are under orders not to talk to the media.
There don‘t seem to be enough of them. There don‘t seem to be enough ships or whatever. And, so, if you look at those two theaters separately, I think you could legitimately ask the question, shouldn‘t that—that manning-the-barricades kind of aspect of this crisis be handled in more of...
MATTHEWS: I agree with you. There‘s no perception...
ROBINSON: .. but a national security sense.
MATTHEWS: We have a larger role.
Let me ask you about the time factor. You and I—we all know this. Certainly, Gene and I know this and Chuck. We have all gotten used to the fact that the American people have a very limited ability to show patience.
MATTHEWS: We fight wars. We love brushfire wars. We‘re out of there. We won. Great. John Wayne stuff. Long, long wars, like Korea or Vietnam or the ones in Afghanistan and Iraq now do not sell in the American public.
MATTHEWS: No one will go to a movie about these wars.
TODD: Not anymore. Right.
MATTHEWS: They won‘t even—they don‘t want to think about them.
MATTHEWS: So, what happens when it‘s August 15, and us three are sitting here? What happens when it‘s September 15, when it‘s October 15, when it‘s the first week in November and the elections are being held?
Has anybody in the White House realized, if they lay this campaign on to BP from now to November, they are going to lose 100 seats in the House? Maybe. I don‘t know.
TODD: Well, look, I think the fact is—you‘re doing a lot of what-ifs. The fact is this. If oil is showing up on the beaches and on the coast of Florida, OK, and that is, you know, where people actually go for beach vacations, where half the country is aware, Florida and California, that‘s where you go for—if that‘s what‘s happening, and you just see the just oil coming ashore, well, then you‘re absolutely right.
But I think, at this point, they‘re not looking at that. They really believe these relief wells are going to fix this problem and fix it in August. But you‘re right. If it keeps lingering, it is what it is.
MATTHEWS: I didn‘t know that. They‘re confident. I haven‘t heard that before. They really think the relief well alternative will stop this problem in August?
TODD: Yes. Yes, they do. And it‘s the only thing that stopped the one in Mexico in 1979, the one that happened in Australia. Relief well is the only final answer here.
MATTHEWS: Well, OK. Well, that‘s something, something to wait for.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you, Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning Eugene Robinson.
MATTHEWS: By the way, this is what you do well, so it‘s OK to mention your prizes when they‘re on what you‘re doing.
MATTHEWS: If this guy had been Red Adair, we could keep saying, you know, well-drilling prize winner.
Anyway, up next: You have heard about Mark Kirk and Dick Blumenthal, two Senate candidates who admitted exaggerating their military records. Next, you‘re going to hear what the governor of Arizona said about her dad‘s service. The “Sideshow” continues.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. Now for the “Sideshow.”
Larry Craig is back. How could you forget him? He‘s the conservative Republican from Idaho who was arrested in a Minneapolis airport bathroom for soliciting sex from an undercover cop. OK, we have gotten used to the hypocrisy angle, the wide stance in this case.
Anyway, though Craig has laid low since retiring from the Senate last year, he, for whatever reason, agreed to an interview with “The Daily Show”‘s John Oliver. Here he is last night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART”)
JOHN OLIVER, “THE DAILY SHOW”: So, Larry Craig...
OLIVER: I had so many questions about the infamous scandal that drove him from the Senate. Unfortunately, he insisted that I ask none of them.
OLIVER: Do you—tell me, Larry Craig, what was your favorite perk in your time in the Senate?
LARRY CRAIG ®, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Favorite perk?
Well, there aren‘t many left. But, when I was rushing to National Airport to catch a plane to Idaho, because I became a very aggressive commuter—I came back to my state a lot—that parking slot at National Airport to me was a big perk.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Outrageous. It guy worse, actually, that interview.
Next, will any—will everyone please drop the Hitler references? I mean everyone. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer told a local paper recently that comparisons of her state‘s tough new immigration policies to Hitler‘s Germany were hurtful because her own father—quote—
“died fighting the Nazi regime in Germany”—her words.
Well, the hitch? Brewer‘s father was actually a munitions worker in Nevada during World War II, and he died in 1955, a decade after the war ended. Brewer‘s spokesperson, however, later clarified, saying that the toxic fumes Brewer‘s father inhaled while working in that munitions factory ultimately led to his death 10 years later.
In a follow-up interview with “The Arizona Guardian,” Brewer added that she never misled anybody—those are her words—“You‘re trying to make a liar out of me.”
Well, we will see.
On a lighter note: news today that Laura Ling, one of the two journalists that President Bill Clinton saved from a North Korean jail cell last year, has given birth to a baby girl. Miss Ling has named the baby Li Jefferson. She says the name is a tribute to the man who got her home, William Jefferson Clinton.
For tonight‘s “Big Number”: a reminder that the days fly by quickly. As of today, how long has Barack Obama been president? Five hundred, 500 days exactly, 500 days of the Obama presidency behind us, half the length, for those historians among you, of the New Frontier—tonight‘s “Big Number.”
Up next: Rod Blagojevich has his day in court today. His trial started today. And he‘s trying to drag the White House into the whole mess. How much of a “Sideshow” will this be for the Obama team?
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
JULIA BOORSTIN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I‘m Julia Boorstin with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”
A little late-day turbulence on a mixed bag of economic data, leaving stocks only modestly higher, the Dow Jones industrials adding five points, the S&P 500 tacking on four points, and the Nasdaq climbing nearly 22 points.
Investors gearing up for the May unemployment report due out tomorrow. Today‘s weekly numbers showed initial claims falling slightly, and the private sector adding fewer than expected jobs in may. Another report shows service sector activity holding steady in April.
Still, that sector has been in growth mode for five straight months.
But, wait, there‘s more. Several reports showed a solid uptick in factory orders, but a slight slowdown in productivity, employers not quite ready to start adding workers in force to fill those new orders.
And some poor weather and a still-cautious consumer produced a grab bag of May retail results. Overall, sales were slightly weaker than expected, especially in the Western U.S.
That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
The federal corruption trial of ousted Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich kicked off today. He‘s charged with 24 criminal counts, all felonies, including bribery, racketeering, and attempted extortion.
And perhaps the most sensational charges center on his alleged attempts to sell President Obama‘s Senate seat. Blagojevich‘s defense team has subpoenaed White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and senior adviser Valerie Jarrett.
And after a year-long celebrity blitz—that‘s included appearances in “Celebrity Apprentice,” “Letterman,” and “the View,” and also “Ellen”—here‘s what the impeached former governor said in a radio interview on Wednesday.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
ROD BLAGOJEVICH (D), FORMER ILLINOIS GOVERNOR: I can‘t wait to get on there and swear on the Holy Bible to tell the whole truth, and—and to begin to give clarification and explanations, and—and confront my accusers and confront those who are lying.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Lynn Sweet is the Washington bureau chief for “The Chicago Sun-Times” and Jim Warren is an MSNBC political contributor and Chicago columnist for “The New York Times” and “BusinessWeek.”
And I want to start with Lynn, who is here, then to Jim.
Does Blago know what Blago has done? Does he have the sanity and the ability to remember what he‘s said that was taped? Does he know what he‘s into here?
LYNN SWEET, COLUMNIST/WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, “THE CHICAGO SUN-
TIMES”: My guess is, no, he doesn‘t, and that, by now, he‘s created in
his—my guess is, knowing the guy, though I haven‘t talked to him
since he was arrested, that he—he thinks that, if all these tapes are
played, there will be not be a word
Isn‘t it confident of somebody...
MATTHEWS: I like that.
MATTHEWS: Let me go—Jim, is that your conclusion, that he doesn‘t know what he said that he‘s incriminated by, perhaps?
JIM WARREN, DEPUTY MANAGING EDITOR, “THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE”: No, I don‘t know if he believes that. But I certainly think he believes that it‘s all—quote—“politics” and anything that we might consider a quid pro quo is just sort of the normal business of a big-time governor.
MATTHEWS: Yes, but the one case that‘s been—we have been talking about it around here—if he‘s caught on tape, planning or conspiring to give that Senate seat away and to get a job for himself, a private-sector job in the labor movement or elsewhere that gets him an income, is that criminal? And doesn‘t he know it? Why doesn‘t he know it? Because he must remember that, the SEIU thing he was working on.
WARREN: Yes, he will be reminded.
I think the audio portion of this is absolutely critical, because even though, if you believe, like I do, that this is going to be a primer for all of us, for all Americans about how government works every single day in every state capital, every big-time city, the fact that you‘re going to be hearing it I think is going to make the huge difference.
Plus I don‘t think a national audience realizes, nor should they, that, under the radar screen this last year or so, have come a series of guilty pleas of top Blagojevich aides, as Lynn knows, who have admitted to everything from kickbacks to illegal quid pro quos.
And you have matters such as the absolutely brazen alleged attempt by Governor Blagojevich to get $50,000 from the head of the most esteemed children‘s hospital here and telling him, unless you give me the 50 grand in my campaign fund, I‘m going to hold up $8 million which the legislature has already appropriated for you.
Just imagine what a jury is going to think if that testimony plays out in front of them.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let‘s not—let‘s not get too hairy here, but I have to—I have remembered a conversation I had with somebody in Philadelphia once about a U.S. senator that told somebody, some university, you got your 12 million bucks. Now I want $100,000 in campaign contributions by May 30.
OK. Is that illegal?
SWEET: It may be, depending how it was said.
You know, this line—the line is bright to a prosecutor, not so bright probably to someone who is soliciting contributions. If...
MATTHEWS: Yes. But this stuff, as Jim says, goes on all the time. He said this is picking up the rock of politics and seeing the bug life underneath, OK? Do you buy that?
SWEET: What—you know the saying what‘s legal is a crime, what is legal is a crime? Why do you think people go to venders for political contributions? But the point on this trial here...
MATTHEWS: You mean people that do business with the government?
SWEET: Yes. When you look at who—who contributes, this is...
MATTHEWS: Yes, it‘s called the contractors. It‘s called the legal business. They want the legal notices. They want everything. They want the underwritings, the financial houses.
And that‘s why, if you look at the financial committees in Congress, who donates? But the point about this trial is Rod Blagojevich...
MATTHEWS: And lawyers want to be judges.
SWEET: Rod Blagojevich would like nothing more than to make this whole trial about American politics, about Illinois and Chicago politics, because that buttresses his point he‘s doing nothing wrong.
OK, let‘s go to the question here. Let‘s really circle the wagons here.
Jim, you open an interesting question. Why do you think every law firm is good for bundlers? Why is it always good to go to a lawyer to get a bunch of other lawyers to bundle money together? Why would lawyers want to always give money to politicians? Why would they want to do it?
WARREN: Well, as...
MATTHEWS: Their public service?
WARREN: ... now a noted nationally—as a nationally-respected bug life inspector, the reasons are—the reasons are obvious.
WARREN: You‘re potentially going to get big business.
And there‘s a lot of stuff that we as reporters don‘t ever follow, like big bond business going to law firms that specialize in that sort of stuff. And it‘s really substantial, you know, moneys of the—from the public trough for the white-collar folks.
Now, it may be that, as Michael Kinsley said long, long ago, the most outrageous stuff is the stuff that is—is legal, but I do think here that tape is going to make all the difference. And, again there are a bunch of top aides who pleaded guilty or who will be testifying for the government. And I think they could be very damaging.
MATTHEWS: Is he right? Could Blagojevich be right by saying I‘ve sat around and basically BSed with my staff guides about ways that I could leverage this appointment to fill this seat of Barack Obama. What can I get for this? How could I raise money out of this? Who might give me money for my campaign treasury if I do certain things? What kind of bank shots can I hit, where I hit this one person and somebody else does me a favor because they care about that appointment.
Somebody wants Valerie so they will do something for me. Somebody wants this. Somebody wants Jesse Jackson Jr. You know what I mean? That‘s what he was doing. He was speculating with his staff about who might benefit and want to pay to benefit from an appointment of one of these guys or women to be the senator. Right? Is that a crime?
SWEET: And he‘s saying, you‘re criminalizing—this is him, would say you‘re criminalizing some BS conversations of just—
MATTHEWS: Do you believe in that, Warren? Is that kind of generalized conversation, sitting around the office thinking, how can I leverage this appointment to fill the seat of Barack Obama? How can I get something out of it to pay off my campaign debts? Is that a crime?
WARREN: It conceivably could be, particularly if you put it in the context—and there‘s allegations here of personal enrichment, Chris. Not just money going to the campaign fund. But there‘s suggestions that he was out to personally enrich himself. Remember, you‘ve also got the allegation of no-show real estate work, essentially, and splitting of fees by his wife. You‘ve got suggestions that there was some remodeling work done on the home in exchange for state business.
So, again, it will all be the context in which that is placed. And I do think potentially, without knowing what the tapes say, that the audio could be absolutely damaging for a bunch of normal Americans.
MATTHEWS: Here‘s some interesting slop. Blagojevich was asked if there was a comparison to be made between what he did and what was offered to Joe Sestak. We all know about that. Joe Sestak was offered something by the White House. Let‘s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLAGOJEVICH: So starting tomorrow, when this case begins, the truth was put in the lock box by these prosecutors, who falsely accuse me of things and have lied. We‘re going to unlock that lock box tomorrow when we start out in court, and the truth will come out and people will see exactly what‘s happened here. And among the things you‘ll see is the answer is yes. Your analogy between Sestak and me—and a lot of the same players are involved.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: What a great trouble-maker this guy is. What do you think, Lynn?
SWEET: I think if he—even though Rahm Emanuel was subpoenaed, it doesn‘t mean for sure he‘ll testify. But that‘s exactly the point that Rod Blagojevich wants to make. So you‘re talking to—you know, to this guy about appointments. Your deputy, Jim Messina—that‘s the story today—went to another candidate and—
SWEET: And we have email to show it. What did I do that was wrong or different than anyone else who is not in trouble? Now there is a difference of course in the circumstances.
MATTHEWS: And also the charges. Let me tell you, the charges that have been raised by the Republicans, Sean Hannity and others, are basically misdemeanors. They‘re fines or imprisonment less than a year, which are misdemeanor charges. What this guy is up on are serious felony charges like racketeering. So there‘s that difference.
SWEET: Right. That‘s why you‘re in the federal court. These are
you‘ll have a pretty serious judge. I bet there will be a lot of arguments over what‘s germane and not germane.
MATTHEWS: The best part of this, I‘m going to have both of you guys back on again and again and again this summer. This is like the confessions of Eddy Coyle (ph) or something, out of the world of Eddie Coyle. I love it. It‘s dark. It‘s dirty. It‘s under that rock, Jim warren, the bug life under the rock. Thank you so much, Jim Warren, out in Chicago, Lynn Sweet right here.
Up next, first Sestak, now Romanoff. The Obama White House is facing a fresh batch of questions about back-room deals after a second Senate candidate, Andrew Romanoff of Colorado, acknowledged a top Obama aide, Jim Messina, encouraged him not to run and offered him whatever, who knows. Is this just clumsy politics in the White House or what? The strategists join us next. This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: After losing badly in his quest to become the first African-American to win the Democratic nomination for governor down in Alabama, U.S. Congressman Artur Davis says he‘s done with politics altogether. Davis told the “Birmingham News” he has no interest in running for office ever again, and added that when a candidate fails as badly as he did, it‘s time to find something else to do with your life. Boy is that fresh? I‘ve never heard that one before.
After starting the year with a 30-point lead in the polls, Davis lost in a shocker Tuesday night by nearly two to one. HARDBALL will be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We went through a
pretty contested primary. They‘re not altogether fun things. Does the
again, does the leader of the party have an interest in insuring that primaries that tend to be costly aren‘t had, so that you‘re ready for a general election? Of course.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Wow. We‘re back. That was White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs again today, commenting on the new reports that the deputy White House chief of staff discussed potential job opportunities with Colorado Democrat Andrew Romanoff before he decided to run for the Senate against the White House‘s preferred candidate, Michael Bennett. Some Republicans want an investigation. But is the White House guilty of anything beyond politics as usual?
For more on that and today‘s immigration meeting between the president and the Arizona governor, let‘s bring in our strategists, Democrat Steve McMahon, who is with me, and Republican Todd Harris.
Todd, you‘re laughing, but let me ask you this, don‘t both parties do what‘s called clear the field? When they have a preferred candidate they have recruited for the race, they don‘t want a bunch of other candidates raising a lot of money and causing trouble in the primaries and smearing up their candidate. They want to go in clean with lots of money to the general.
What‘s wrong with going to the other candidates and saying, if you stick around, there might be something for you?
TODD HARRIS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well the short answer is, absolutely. This has been going on for a really long time. Both parties do it. And I don‘t really think that that is what the issue is here.
There are two things that I think make this problematic. The first one is that this president came into town promising an age of transparency, you know, that the age—the old politics is over. This is change and hope. This really—it‘s been happening for a long time, but this really looks and smells and sounds a lot like the old politics.
But the larger problem, Chris, is that this is a symptom of a White House, that because of the president‘s policies, doesn‘t have the political muscle anymore to force its will on even members of their own party.
MATTHEWS: You‘re whacking them—he whacks you from both directions. You‘re not sleazy enough. You‘re sleazy a little bit more than you said you would be, but you‘re not sleazy enough.
STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Let‘s take a look at the facts for a second. One of the reasons that we know what happened in the Sestak case, for instance, is that the White House did an investigation and put it all together and put it out there. Now, they took too long to get there.
MATTHEWS: You think they‘re telling the truth?
MCMAHON: They bungled it a little bit.
MATTHEWS: You think they are telling the truth?
MCMAHON: Yes, I think they are telling the facts—telling the truth, because if they don‘t tell the truth, the truth will be discovered at some point. That‘s one rule in politics. It‘s never the act. It‘s always the, quote, cover up. I think to avoid being accused of any kind of cover up, they got the facts and they got the facts out. What people see when they look at the facts is, oh, my gosh, there‘s politics going on here. They wanted to clear the field for what they thought was the strongest candidate. When you‘re the leader of the party, that‘s your prerogative.
MATTHEWS: Is that what‘s going on? I don‘t think former President Bill Clinton, having had his own problems over the years with somebody taping him—her name was Jennifer Flowers, years ago—he‘s not going to say something over the phone to Joe Sestak. First of all, I don‘t think he will do it anyway. But I don‘t think he would ever say, if you do this, the White House—Rahm tells me he will do this for you, something that could be criminalized. Wouldn‘t he say something like, you know, Joe, you‘re crazy to make this race; Eddie Rendel‘s not going to get you any money; you‘re going to have a hard time raising any money; you‘re going to just cause yourself a lot of trouble and that lose that House seat that we really need in the party. Down the road, Gates is leaving Defense. There is going to be some openings over at Defense Department, maybe even the top job down the road. So why don‘t you stay where you are?
That sounds like the conversation of a smart politician. Totally legal, absolutely legal, not quid pro quo, just it‘s a better career move to stick where you‘re at, because, down the road, with your admiral‘s experience, you could be a great guy to be secretary of Defense or assistant or deputy whatever. Doesn‘t that sound right to you, Todd? Doesn‘t that sound like the conversation, not like this other one where he supposedly offered him the secretary of the Navy job that wasn‘t even open, or offered him an independent advisory job you can‘t even take if you‘re a congressman? Let‘s be logical here. Let‘s use our brains. Your thoughts, Todd?
MCMAHON: Todd, use your brain now. Come on.
HARRIS: Look, President Clinton is a pretty smart guy. I seriously doubt that he picked up the phone and said some of the things that have been alleged. At the end of the day, I don‘t think any votes in Pennsylvania are going to be lost by Sestak because of this whole affair. I think he will lose a lot of votes for a whole lot of other reasons. I think the White House is going to take a hit. And I think in Colorado, Bennett may take a hit, because he looks like the ultimate insider who has the White House now trying to clear the field for him. So I think he could have a problem.
Ultimately, I think this all comes down to the fact that the White House has lost its muscle.
MATTHEWS: I think you may be right in both regards. They have lost their finesse is the right word. Here‘s Arizona GOvernor Jan Brewer at the White House today. Let‘s switch to this immigration issue, where the president has a little bit of problem, I think. Let‘s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. JAN BREWER ®, ARIZONA: I have the responsibility, of course, to the people of Arizona to take back to them some specific information. I will tell you, I am encouraged that there‘s going to be much better dialogue between the federal government and the state of Arizona. Now, I hope that‘s not wishful thinking. I hope that is positive thinking.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Toomey has apparently come out in Pennsylvania—did you know this, Todd—and supports the Arizona law. This thing isn‘t as unpopular as the president thinks it is among Republicans.
MCMAHON: When you look at the poll results in Arizona, even when you look at the poll results around the country, in the short term, the Republicans are probably doing the right thing politically. In the long term, though, they‘re driving Hispanics, which is the fastest growing voting population, away from their party. It‘s stupid.
MATTHEWS: Short term gain for your party, long term loss of the Hispanic vote?
HARRIS: Yes, I actually said that on the air before. I think it‘s probably a win-win today for both Brewer and the president. The president gets to make it look like he excoriated her.
MATTHEWS: That‘s not good. He shouldn‘t be doing that. He shouldn‘t be laughing about this. It‘s a serious issue with people. Thank you, Steve McMahon. Thank you, Todd Harris.
When we return, let me finish with some thoughts about what President Obama can do right now to revive the American spirit. You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with an extraordinary proposal to the president of the United States. I think what‘s been misunderstood in this entire fiasco in the Gulf of Mexico was the spiritual factor. People in our country are heartsick over this. They sit and watch our natural birthright being disfigured, this gift outright that Robert Frost called North America. There‘s nothing they can do, nothing their kids or parents or anyone they know can do.
It as if we‘re all a bunch of bystanders watching part our country get destroyed. I have a small recommendation. It could fill a big part of our national heart. Put out an offer, Mr. President, to the people of America, not just the youth, but to anyone who can participate. Create right now a modern Civilian Conservation Corps, CCC, like they had back in the ‘30s, and deploy it in all the states of the Gulf. Invite any American who wants to join it to come down south this summer and work to clean up the beaches and the wetlands.
I know there will be people who will warn you of the hazards, the possibility of somebody getting hurt or drowning or whatever. Let people sign releases if it‘s necessary. But giver Americans a chance to do something.
I got this idea from the headmaster of Choat Rosemary Hall, the school in Connecticut where John F. Kennedy attended back in the ‘30s. The headmaster writes, “it is now June 3rd and millions of high school boys and girls, college men and women, are finishing up their economic work, some of them with jobs, many of them, no doubt, without jobs. Is it not within the purview of any of our many federal agencies to mobilize a National Peace Corps or National Environmental Protection Corps for the next three months for the purpose of capturing the oil that is already beginning to cause irreparable harm to our environment and to those who live in the Gulf area?”
There‘s a wonderful story behind this. When he was a student at
Choat, young Jack Kennedy organized a group of trouble making classmates
he christened them the Muckers. He gave each member a little shovel to show he belonged, the Muckers. Maybe you could give that nickname to the huge brigade of not just young people I predict would sign up to clean up the Gulf this summer. Maybe the best thing you could do, Mr. President, is while slapping BP with the bill for all this, let the American people regain the spirit of Kennedy and get out there and reclaim this America the beautiful of ours.
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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