updated 5/4/2011 1:19:10 PM ET 2011-05-04T17:19:10

Guests: Howard Fineman, Sue Herera, Michael Smerconish, Mark Mazzetti, Paul Reickhoff, Todd Purdum, Jonathan Martin, Janny Scott

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  R‘s say W caught him.  Wow!

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews down in Washington.  Leading off tonight: Mission accomplished.  But how?  Did torture play a role in finding bin Laden?  Did it really?  Did bin Laden use a woman as a shield?  How did the U.S. track bin Laden back to that compound?  And how can we believe our alleged ally, Pakistan, when it says it didn‘t know?  We‘ve got the latest on the daring mission that nailed the world‘s most wanted villain.

Plus: This is a defining moment for President Obama, as well as for a generation of young Americans.  New polls out today show the president getting a bump in the polls.  Can it last until next November?

Also, it‘s the end of the silly season.  What do Republicans do without talking about birth certificates and college records?

And our poker-faced president.  We‘re going to show you what President Obama was saying publicly while privately, of course, he was approving plans to take out bin Laden.

And “Let Me Finish” with the Republicans.  What can you say about a party that gives more credit to George W. Bush than to President Obama for capturing bin Laden?

We start with mission accomplished.  Mark Mazzetti‘s a reporter for “The New York Times” and Paul Rieckhoff is an Iraq war veteran and the founder and executive—executive director, I should say, of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.  Gentlemen, thank you both for coming.

I want to ask a tough question which has been circulating with our producers and everyone here at HARDBALL to Mark Mazzetti.  Are you able to say now authoritatively, Mark, as a reporter for “The Times” going to deadline tonight whether torture was necessary to catching Obama? (SIC)

MARK MAZZETTI, “NEW YORK TIMES” :  Well, I mean, all the reporting that we‘ve done so far indicates that the information that led to the raid on Sunday night did come from detainees, but it didn‘t come from the—what the CIA called “enhanced interrogation” that took place in the few years after September 11.

There were a couple of the high-value detainees who had been waterboarded, of course.  However, it doesn‘t appear that they gave up information that led to the raid during the course of this harsh interrogation.  So it doesn‘t appear to be a really strong link at this point.

MATTHEWS:  So as far as you can report to us tonight, nobody broke under torture, under waterboarding, and gave up the name of the courier?

MAZZETTI:  No.  It‘s interesting.  The name of the courier who—

MATTHEWS:  Or even the code name of the courier?

MAZZETTI:  -- the CIA heard bout before they got Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and others—the name was brought to KSM and another man, Abu Faraj al Libi.  And in fact, they denied ever knowing him even after the harsh interrogation.  And that actually raised suspicions of the CIA that maybe this guy really was important because these guys were denying knowing him.

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s interesting.  Let me go to Paul Rieckhoff.  What do you know?  What have you been able to pick up about the role that torture played, and we mean waterboarding generally in this case, in getting the necessary information?

PAUL RIECKHOFF, IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN VETERANS OF AMERICA:  I honestly have no idea, Chris.  I think Mark‘s on the inside of that.  I think, you know, the scuttle within our community right now, the military community, is really about pride and about almost awe with what the Navy SEALs can do, especially Devgroup and SEAL Team Six.  I mean, these are—

MATTHEWS:  OK, well, let‘s go with that.

RIECKHOFF:  -- absolutely incredible—

MATTHEWS:  I respect your service and your knowledge.  Tell me about

what you can give us in terms of the kind of—kind of attack that was

necessary, the kind of training and planning and execution that you found -

that you do find to be excellent, or whatever, education (ph) on this case.  What did you learn from this thing?

RIECKHOFF:  Well, this is what these guys do every day.  I mean, this isn‘t a rare instance where we‘re actually finding out what they do.  Obviously, this is at a higher level, but they train their entire lives for a moment like this.  And I think it‘s important to recognize we‘ll never know their names.  I mean, these guys aren‘t going to get a parade through New York City.  They‘re not going to get a tickertape welcome.  They‘re going to go back to doing their job, just like they have been every day since 9/11.  So they are an incredibly elite unit that really is like nothing else in the world.  And over the next couple of days, you know, the American population, the civilian population is going to really find out how incredibly impressive and expert they are.

MATTHEWS:  Mark, let me go back—and I—boy, I wish I could say that as well as you did and mean it with the back ground you‘ve got, Paul.  Let me ask you, Mark, about this question of the role we know that was played by bin Laden in his own demise.  Do we know if he used a human shield?  Did he grab a woman and jump behind her or anything like that?  That was originally what we were getting from Brennan.

MAZZETTI:  Yes.  That doesn‘t appear to have been the case.  I mean, we think there was one—at least two women in the room with bin Laden on the third floor of the compound when the raid happened, and that one of the women may have run toward one of the NAVY SEALs and was then shot in the leg.  But there‘s no—no one I‘ve talked to privately has said that bin Laden actually used a human shield, although one of the women did die being used as a human shield, but it wasn‘t by bin Laden.

MATTHEWS:  Downstairs.  Let me ask but whether he resisted and how he might have without a firearm.  Do you know what the means of resistance was?

MAZZETTI:  No.  We‘re still trying to sort of learn more about that.  I mean, that has been—from when we talked to officials on Sunday night, they said that he had resisted the assault, but we didn‘t really get much more detail than that.  And it did come out today that, in fact, that he was never armed, so we‘re trying to find out how he may have resisted.

MATTHEWS:  Do we know if he knew that the service people, our special forces, were working their way up to his top floor?  Do we know if he aware that he was about to get caught?

MAZZETTI:  Well, presumably.  He was a highly intelligent person.  And one would have assumed that with an intense firefight going on—and it‘s been confirmed that he was killed toward the end of the firefight, so this is a—

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  That‘s what I thought.

MAZZETTI:  -- half hour of intense fighting.  He probably would have presumed that they ultimately would have gotten to the room where he was, unless, you know, he would have thought that all of the invaders would have been killed before they got to him.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, that would be certainly optimistic thinking.  Here‘s White House press secretary Jay Carney on what happened when the Navy SEALs entered bin Laden‘s compound.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  There was concern that bin Laden would oppose the capture opturation—operation, rather—and indeed, he did resist.  In the room with bin Laden, a woman, bin Laden‘s—a woman, rather, bin Laden‘s wife, rushed the U.S. assaulter and was shot in the leg but not killed.  Bin Laden was then shot and killed.  He was not armed.

QUESTION:  If he didn‘t have his hand on a gun, how was he resisting?

CARNEY:  Yes, the information I have—to you, first of all, I think resistance does not require a firearm.

QUESTION:  But did he have any weapon?

CARNEY:  He was not armed, is what I understand to be true.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Paul Rieckhoff, I respect your service.  What are you hearing about this assault?  What are fellow service people telling you about it?  Well, they must be very proud of these fellows over there and what they did.

RIECKHOFF:  Overwhelmingly proud and impressed.  And the military community has a tremendous reverence for everybody in JSOC, everybody in the special operations community.  I mean, think about the tactical proficiency and skill it would require to enter that room, shoot a woman in the leg and then take out bin Laden with two shots while the president‘s watching, the world, you know, will later find out what happened.  I mean, that‘s an incredible amount of discipline, dedication, a whole life built toward a moment like that, and to do it with such professionalism.

And that‘s why we call them the “silent professionals,” the quiet professionals.  They‘re going to do this job, and they‘re probably off on another mission or being debriefed already.  You know, folks are already back at work in Afghanistan.  I think it‘s a testament to the larger military.  I mean, think about the folks who are back on patrol in Afghanistan or back on patrol in Iraq.  You know, this is a real win for our military.  And it‘s been a rough couple of years, and our community really needed it.  So it‘s a big boost to the morale to everyone and our families back home.

MATTHEWS:  You know, that raises a point, Mark.  In reporting, I know reporters always try to get the information.  But people on the inside in a secret mission like this have to keep that information.  This ability on the part of the service people involved here, anybody that was moving paper with regard to the orders and all the kind of provisioning of these guys and all that effort—how did they keep all that secret going all the way over to Islamabad, to the suburbs there, all that information in and out of the political service—the political people and the service people?

MAZZETTI:  Yes.  I mean, it is an amazing secret that has been kept for months and months.  As we reported, you know, today, dating back from last July, when they first laid eyes on this courier and then ultimately tracked him to this compound, they started watching the compound 24 hours a day for months.  And then we know that the operation has been in the works for at least a month.

And for this never to leak out—it‘s obviously—they—those that knew about it were pretty good about keeping a secret.  But I mean, as secrets go, this was about the most highly classified operation perhaps in American history.

MATTHEWS:  You know, I keep thinking, on my side, I was at the White House Correspondents dinner Saturday night, and there I am buzzing around, saying hello to my old pals, Jack Lew, the head of the budget, and Tom Donilon, national security adviser now, and of course, Bill Daley, the chief of staff, just talking social stuff and general politics.  And all the time now, right, Mark, these guys probably knew all of this because they were in the Sit Room.  They were in that inner circle, these guys, right?

MAZZETTI:  That‘s right.  It‘s a poker face.  And you know, there‘s hundreds and hundreds of journalists in the room, and I guess everyone was lousy about extracting any information.

MATTHEWS:  Well, we weren‘t very good spooks, were we.  Anyway, here‘s the—let‘s take a look at “The New York Times,” your reporting today on intelligence officials and how they found bin Laden.  Quote, “Prisoners in American custody told stories of a trusted courier.  The National Security Agency began intercepting telephone calls and e-mail messages between the man‘s family and anyone inside Pakistan.  From there, they got his full name last July.  Pakistani agents working for the CIA spotted him driving his vehicle near Peshawar.  When after weeks of surveillance, he drove to the sprawling compound in Abbottabad, American intelligence operatives felt they were on to something big, perhaps even bin Laden himself.”

And back to you, Mark.  The role of Pakistan, the fact that the director of intelligence, Leon Panetta, has openly now said in an interview I believe for “60 Minutes”—that‘s out there—actually, for “Time” magazine—it‘s already out there—said that Pakistan was not trustworthy as an ally.  Had we told them that, we would have had problems with them telling the targets, ratting out bin Laden—I mean, actually warning him.

MAZZETTI:  Yes.  I mean, we‘ve seen this for years—

MATTHEWS:  That‘s a hell of a statement, by the way.

MAZZETTI:  -- this very deeply troubled relationship between the United States and Pakistan and the sort of dysfunctional relationship the CIA has with its counterpart in Pakistan, the ISI.  There had been years of frustration where the United States at times had given intelligence to the Pakistanis and then there were suspicions that they then tipped off al Qaeda or the Taliban or others.

Things are bad right now in terms of the relationship, but American officials publicly, as you just said, are being very blunt about all of this.  Now, it should be said that the Pakistani officials have vehemently denied that anyone in the government had any knowledge of bin Laden‘s whereabouts all these many years.

MATTHEWS:  Well, they would have had—Paul, you can get in here.  They would have had the intelligence if we gave it to them, and that‘s the problem.  If they didn‘t know—and here is the question.  We now look at Pakistan the way that Michael Corleone looked at Fredo, his brother, you know, not to be trusted.

RIECKHOFF:  Yes.  I wouldn‘t trust them.  I think it makes sense to me.  I mean, intelligence has got to be held very close and shared only with the people with a need to know.  And in that part of the world, you‘ve got to be really careful with the corruption and the rumor mill that happens out there.  That will compromise a mission quickly.  So you know, it makes sense to me.  I‘ve been on operations where you keep information very close and on a need to know basis, and I don‘t blame them.

MATTHEWS:  OK, it‘s great having you on.  Thank you for your service always, Paul.  Thanks for coming on, Paul Rieckhoff.

RIECKHOFF:  Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  And thank you, Mark Mazzetti.

Coming up: Let‘s go to the politics.  No doubt the killing of bin Laden will be the defining moment of President Obama‘s first term, at least so far.  How much of a bump in the polls will that get—will he get from it?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Wow!  “The New York Times” stopped the presses Sunday night as news broke that U.S. forces had killed Osama bin Laden.  It was only the third time that‘s happened at “The Times” in 43 years.  The other two, March 31, 1968.  It was a Sunday when LBJ ruled out running for reelection.  Never forgot that night.  And election night back in 2000.  Unfortunately, it didn‘t get the election right.

Anyway, HARDBALL back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I know that that unity that we felt on 9/11 has frayed a little bit over the years, and I have no illusions about the difficulties, the debates that will have to be engaged in in the weeks and months to come.  But I also know there have been several moments like this during the course of this year that have brought us together as an American family, whether it was the tragedy in Tucson, or most recently, our unified response to the terrible storms that have taken place in the South.  Last night was one of those moments.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  That was, of course, President Obama talking to a bipartisan dinner meeting of congressional leaders at the White House last night.

Early poll numbers show some big changes in attitudes, of course.  A “Washington Post” Pew Research Center poll conducted Monday finds a spike in the country‘s attitude about how things are going.  Roughly one out of three now say they‘re satisfied.  It was one out of four in March.  That‘s an uptick.

The president‘s personal approval, however, has gone way up in this poll.  He‘s up at plus-18 points now, and was at minus-3 last month.  Other polls out today show a smaller bump—see him there at 56 percent approval.  But while the country is positive on the handling of terrorism, his handling, and Afghanistan, still just 40 percent approve his handling of the economy.  Duh.  Has something to do with reality.

Will killing Osama bin Laden prove to be a defining moment for this president?  And would Republican attitudes be different if this had happened while George W. Bush was still—well, you don‘t have to ask that one!

Howard Fineman is the editorial director for The HuffingtonPost and MSNBC political analyst, of course.  And Todd Purdum is national editor for “Vanity Fair.”  Gentlemen, do I have to ask what Republicans—secular canonization!  The guy‘d be on Mt. Rushmore if W. had done this!

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  They‘d be carving the stone tonight, right?

HOWARD FINEMAN, HUFFINGTONPOST.COM, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Oh, there‘s no question.

MATTHEWS:  The dancing, the spiking of the ball would be unbelievable.

FINEMAN:  Just think what George W. did, you know, on the aircraft carrier.

MATTHEWS:  Without even doing it!

FINEMAN:  Without even doing it.

MATTHEWS:  Just put the sign up.

FINEMAN:  It really wasn‘t mission accomplished.  This really was a mission accomplished.  So if it were they, if it were the Republicans, oh, my God, yes, there‘d be fireworks everywhere.

MATTHEWS:  Todd?

TODD PURDUM, “VANITY FAIR”:  Well, most—

MATTHEWS:  Do you want to venture a partisan assessment here?

PURDUM:  I think most responsible Republicans really were quite effusive in their praise of President Obama.  I was struck by Dick Cheney on MSNBC—

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

PURDUM:  -- on Monday.

MATTHEWS:  He was good.

PURDUM:  He couldn‘t have been more gracious.  So there are people who

--

MATTHEWS:  But you know the numbers, don‘t you?  Eighty percent of this—of the Republican Party give credit to President W and only 60 percent of Republicans give it to President Obama.

PURDUM:  There are—

MATTHEWS:  And that is really screwy.

PURDUM:  As President Kennedy said, there will always be some guy who didn‘t get the word.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s well said.  Here‘s more from “The Washington Post”/Pew poll.  Overall, 76 percent of the country gives President Obama credit for killing Obama (SIC) and 51 percent gives President Bush credit.  Thirty-one percent give President Bush no credit.  As far as who gets the biggest amount of credit, a great (ph) deal (ph), as the poll, puts it, Democrats overwhelmingly break for Obama.  Independents are about 2-to-1 for Obama.  Republicans are almost 2-to-1 for Bush.  Six in ten Republicans say President Obama deserves some credit for Obama‘s—for bin Laden‘s death.  But 8 in 10 Republicans say President Bush deserves some of the credit.

I think they probably believe that Reagan deserves most of the credit for everything, Howard.

FINEMAN:  Of course.  Of course.

MATTHEWS:  This is bizarro, isn‘t it?

FINEMAN:  Well, it is bizarro, but I think that even though the numbers are certainly, at best, equivocal for the president among Republicans, they‘re stronger among independents.  And I think, overall, this is a calling card for him in terms of the long burden that the Democrats have had, and that Democratic presidents have had, on the notion that they‘re either weak or inept on military affairs.

MATTHEWS:  How did they earn that (INAUDIBLE) that rap?

FINEMAN:  Well, one thing—

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  -- happened back in the Jimmy Carter days.  Jimmy Carter tried a similarly dramatic rescue, in this case of the American hostages—

MATTHEWS:  With helicopters.

FINEMAN:  -- with helicopters.  And you know, it was a disaster—

MATTHEWS:  It was a horror.

FINEMAN:  -- in the desert.

MATTHEWS:  It was a horror.

FINEMAN:  It was a horror, in many ways sealed Jimmy Carter‘s fate and reinforced the idea that the Democrats, going back to Vietnam, going back to the George McGovern campaign, where he was against the war, and so on—that the Democrats were somehow both wary of, inept about, and opposed to the use, the expert use, of tough military action.

This is a case where President Obama and his team were brave in the choices they made.  They were surgical in what they did.  And they succeeded to the utmost.  And I think that‘s going to go a long way, especially when the Republicans who are likely to run, and the dominant and prominent Republican contenders, have no military experience.

Now we‘re past that time.  Nobody has any military experience anymore.

MATTHEWS:  OK—

FINEMAN:  But now, ironically, it‘s Barack Obama who‘s got the commander-in-chief experience.  John McCain isn‘t running again.  And I think it‘s a big tipping point—in my view, a big tipping point between the parties that didn‘t exist before.

MATTHEWS:  Todd—

PURDUM:  Well—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Ike used restraint.  He didn‘t use military force hardly at all—

PURDUM:  He—

MATTHEWS:  Carter didn‘t use it, but there‘s a difference in—between restraint and pacifism, I guess.

PURDUM:  Well, yes.  

I mean, I think it‘s really fascinating that the 2012 election could turn on the Democrats as the national security party, and the Republicans trying to get some traction on the economy, when, for most of our lifetimes, it‘s been the reverse. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.   

PURDUM:  But I think, you know, one of the things that President Obama

may well have put to rest with this—there will be some people who will

never like him, but you really can‘t say he is not a man who has a certain

amount of daring-do, because he did pick the hardest option.  And, you know

--

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Which also resonates with what he did with the pirate that time in a smaller case, right?

PURDUM:  Yes.  I think it resonates with the notion that we are not going to mess around.  And the White House was quite successful I thought in putting out those speeches from 2007 and 2008, in which at the time, you will recall, people sort of mocked him.  Oh, yes, if you saw bin Laden, you would go take him out.  And you shouldn‘t say that out loud because it will hurt our relationship with Pakistan.  It‘s not done.

FINEMAN:  By the way, he‘s put a lot more—he did put a lot more troops in Afghanistan, OK?  He didn‘t put as many as some of the conservatives wanted. 

PURDUM:  Stepped up the Predator attacks.

FINEMAN:  Stepped up the Predator attacks with the drones.  And here, the difference is between President Bush and Dick Cheney almost literally pushing the 500-pound daisy-cutter bombs down onto Iraq and not getting what they were targeting, and the president getting the person that he was targeting. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  There‘s a difference between being cold-blooded—I think presidents have to be cold-blooded—and being a sadist. 

FINEMAN:  Yes.  But all the debate now about—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I was referring to—I‘m referring to Dick Cheney, of course.

PURDUM:  I think most people would agree—

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN: -- all the debate—all the debate—all the debate now about whether—about whether Osama bin Laden was—was defending himself, whether he had a weapon or didn‘t have a weapon, let‘s face it.  Based on what we are thinking, Obama—the president‘s orders was—were to shoot and kill. 

MATTHEWS:  And, Todd, you said some people never get the message.  Liz Cheney and Bill Kristol put out a statement in their capacity of leaders of a group called—I love these names—Keep America Safe.

Well, I guess we can agree with that.  Here is part of their statement: “We are grateful for the bravery of the Americans who raided the compound near Islamabad and killed Osama bin Laden.  We are also grateful to the men and women of America‘s intelligence services, who, through their interrogation of high-value detainees, developed the information that apparently led us to bin Laden.”

No mention of President Obama there.  Liz Cheney‘s dad, the former vice president, did give President Obama credit, but he was also quick to tout the interrogation techniques he long championed.

Isn‘t this strange?  Let‘s watch. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  All I know is what I have seen in the newspaper at this point.  But it wouldn‘t be surprised if in fact that program produced results that ultimately contributed to the success of this venture. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  The ministry of truth in Orwellian terms.  Of course again, the guy—what are we about here?  We‘re—the best evidence we have got from (INAUDIBLE) of “The Times”—we‘re going to keep reporting this, obviously.  There may be just arguments about what the nature of the thing was, but torture, water-boarding didn‘t get us the names of the courier, didn‘t get us to the compound.  We‘re finding that out. 

What do you hear? 

PURDUM:  Yes, I think that‘s the absolute clearest understanding to date.  And to the degree that it did anything, it produced some high-ranking people who said they had never heard of the name of the courier, which is what made our experts think he must be very important and that they were lying, as Senator McCain said you do when you are tortured, just to stop the torture. 

FINEMAN:  From what I know, this is much less a matter of some dramatic moment where somebody breaks under the cascade of water than it is a lot of intelligence—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: “He‘s in Abbottabad.”

FINEMAN:  Yes.  It‘s—

(LAUGHTER)

FINEMAN:  It‘s—yes, “He‘s in Abbottabad.”

It‘s a lot of intelligence people painstakingly putting together thousands and thousands of little clues.  These days, a lot of intelligence is about mass data mining.  It‘s about millions of bits and pieces of information. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

FINEMAN:  It‘s about crowd sourcing.  It‘s about all kinds of stuff—

MATTHEWS:  Good word.

FINEMAN: -- that Dick Cheney doesn‘t really know that much about. 

MATTHEWS:  Did you like—did you like the idea that it still came down to a call, that it was 60 percent to 80 percent?  It wasn‘t 100 percent.  You know, even DNA isn‘t event 100 percent, right? 

PURDUM:  Well, your old friend Senator Moynihan in the health debate in 1994 said, nothing is ever 100 percent; nothing is ever 100 percent. 

MATTHEWS:  But this was 60 percent to 80 percent. 

FINEMAN:  Well, but president—the reason that he picked—the president had the two choices, to either bomb that place into oblivion and have there be questions about who was really in there—

MATTHEWS:  Oh, yes, and a lot of dead people.

FINEMAN:  So he went for the higher-value thing and he got rewarded beyond his expectation, because they found such a trove of documents there, hard drives and disk drives and flash drives and—you know, the things that we‘re going to get potentially out of that, besides the satisfaction of taking out justice on Osama bin Laden, are almost beyond calculation at this point. 

MATTHEWS:  Who did said that genius was the ability to take pains? 

Was that D.H. Lawrence, somebody like that? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I think that‘s what it‘s about a lot of times.  Writing, for example, writing—both of you guys do great writing. 

People say, how come you‘re a great writer?  “I‘m careful.  I work at it.”

FINEMAN:  Well, my understanding—my understanding of the way the president operates as an administrator is that he sometimes drives people crazy.  He pops his head into meetings all the time. 

In this case—and he is a detail guy.  In this case, he was in all those meetings.  You can say that, sometimes, he—you know, he—he—he is too much lost in the details or he sees too many complexities, this and that, this and that.

In this case—we have trashed him a lot for being overly complex in his thinking sometimes.  This is a case where his ability to deal with complex things really helped him evaluate, it seems, all the pieces of this thing. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

Do you think we will ever again pick a president—or we ever have picked a president we think is not as smart as we are?  Do you think the right will even go that far?  They are looking at people like Palin and Bachmann they don‘t think are as smart as they are. 

Do you think they will actually pick somebody that an average person says, I would like them to be my president; I don‘t think they are as smart as I am, but I would like them to be president?  Because that seems to be their appeal.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t know anything.  I don‘t read anything.  Make me your president.  That seems to be what they‘re saying, right? 

PURDUM:  Well, my parents spent a lot of money on school tuition and college, that I hope we won‘t, because it would really be kind of—

MATTHEWS:  But it just seems like that what is we‘re looking—I think the shopping is going to be different from now on.  They are going to look for somebody as smart as Obama, I think.

You think?  Asking too much.

FINEMAN:  I‘m not sure. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Howard Fineman.

Is there an answer to this?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you Howard, Todd Purdum.

I think of them when I‘m here. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, up next: President Obama‘s poker face.  This is a great story.  We are going to show you what we was saying to us and doing publicly—there he is at the black tie at the dinner the other night—privately planning this amazing, amazing mission. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back. 

As the intelligence picture on bin Laden‘s whereabouts grew clearer, President Obama chaired five National Security Council meetings to develop options for capturing or kill the al Qaeda leader. 

The method for getting bin Laden, whether by bomb or by elite ground forces, was fiercely debated in those early sessions.  But, publicly, no drama Obama put on his poker face.  On the same day as one of those contentious National Security Council meetings in March, Obama did a series of network interviews defending his decision to implement a no-fly zone over Libya and addressing the greater interest—or, rather, the greater unrest in the Middle East. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  And there are going to be some tough things that happen in that—in that region over the next several months and years, potentially, because there is a series of forces that have been unleashed, many of which I think over the long term will turn out positively, but it‘s going to be a bumpy ride. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  A month later, on April 27, the day before his fifth national security meeting, where final details of the mission were likely ironed out, the president released his long-form birth certificate, calling out Donald Trump and his like.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  We do not have time for this kind of silliness.  We have got better stuff to do.  I have got better stuff to do. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Yes, better stuff to do, like, I don‘t know, find and kill the most wanted terrorist on the planet. 

The following day, Obama chaired his final top security session on the mission.  And he also named CIA Director Leon Panetta to be his next secretary of defense and General David Petraeus to be the CIA director. 

The president offered up some eerie foreshadowing when he praised Petraeus. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  As a lifelong consumer of intelligence, he knows that intelligence must be timely, accurate, and acted upon quickly. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s for sure.  That same night, President Obama managed to crack a joke about those birthers at a Democratic National Committee fund-raiser. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  My name is Barack Obama.  I was born in Hawaii. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA:  Nobody checked my I.D. on the way in. 

(LAUGHTER) 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, he gave the final order for the operation on the morning of April 29, toured the tornado damage in Alabama later that day, and that evening gave a commencement address at Miami Dade College, and evoked September 11. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) 

OBAMA:  When bombs fell on Pearl Harbor, when an Iron Curtain fell over Europe, when the threat of nuclear war loomed just 90 miles from this city, when a brilliant September morning was darkened by terror, in none of those instances did we falter.  We endured.  We carried the dream forward. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, the raid was originally scheduled to take place on Saturday this last weekend, April 30, but inclement weather delayed the operation by one day, allowing the president to try his hand at comedy at the White House Correspondents Dinner.  

And as the hours closed in on the plot to take out bin Laden, President Obama took a shot at Donald Trump‘s decision-making ability on the “Celebrity Apprentice.”  Pay close attention to the last line. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  You, Mr. Trump, recognized that the real problem was a lack of leadership, and so, ultimately, you didn‘t blame Lil Jon or Meatloaf. 

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA:  You fired Gary Busey. 

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA:  And these are the kind of decisions that would keep me up at night. 

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  I think we knew what kept the president up that night. 

Anyway, up next—wow, what a story—up next:  The death of Osama bin Laden may prove to be a defining moment for the 2012 Republican field.  Their argument that President Obama is weak on foreign policy, let‘s say it lost its bite the other day, and they don‘t seem to have a candidate who can catch up or match up to be commander in chief like this one.  That‘s ahead. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SUE HERERA, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Sue Herera with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks bounced back from midday declines to finish narrowly mixed, the Dow Jones industrials with a fractional gain.  The S&P 500 fell about four points, and the Nasdaq shed 22.

Very choppy session all the way around.  Commodities got crushed, but the dollar is up, and the blue chips were regaining ground heading into the close.  Silver prices led declines on the commodities front, plunging more than 7.5 percent, the biggest drop in 30 years.  Gold prices tumbled more than $16 during the session—both metals extending those loss in after-hours trading as well. 

Oil prices also took a hit, down more than 2 percent at the close of trading.  And some late earnings tonight—CBS beat estimates and raised its dividend.  And Comcast, which became the parent company of NBC Universal in the first quarter, topped forecasts as well.  Both stocks moving higher in after-hours. 

That‘s it from CNBC.  We are first in business worldwide—and now back to Chris and HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m going to love this segment.  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Since September 11, Republicans have taken hold of national security as one of their signature issues.  But over the past few months, the GOP descended into a party that questions things like the president‘s birth certificate and his college grades. 

Well, after the death of bin Laden the other day, will Republicans get more serious.  Is this their defining moment as they prepare for 2012? 

Jonathan Martin writes for Politico.  He is a great reporter on politics, especially.  And Michael Smerconish is an MSNBC political analyst and national syndicated radio host. 

And, more to the point, you have been—you have been the guy chasing

who was that guy in “Les Mis” that kept chasing the guy, he wouldn‘t stop?  You are that guy.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Jean Valjean. 

MATTHEWS:  Jean Valjean.

JONATHAN MARTIN, SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER, POLITICO.COM:  Jean Valjean.

MATTHEWS:  You have not—

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  No.  You have not stopped. 

No, Javert.  Javert.

SMERCONISH:  Javert.  Javert. 

MATTHEWS:  You were the guy—you were the cop that wouldn‘t stop chasing.  You have been pushing this issue, as all Americans have in their souls, but you verbally.

Why have you been on the warpath on this one issue, Smerconish, with the—how much interviews have you had with the president? 

SMERCONISH:  Five. 

MATTHEWS:  And in every one of them, you have talked about this. 

SMERCONISH:  Every one. 

MATTHEWS:  And what have you gleaned—

SMERCONISH:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS: -- from those interviews with—with the president? 

SMERCONISH:  Well, I‘m so glad that you ask it that way, because the president has got to be given credit for having done exactly what he said he would do. 

If you go back to—if you go back to the spring of 2007, when he started to say, I will move on actionable intelligence in Pakistan if I don‘t have confidence in the Pakistanis doing so, and I then perpetuated that question and would ask him time and again, many people didn‘t want to believe him. 

You know, the Republicans did not want to accept at face value.  They wanted to promote this notion of him being another, more like them, whatever that might mean, than like them. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

SMERCONISH:  And, in the end, Chris, he put the hammer down exactly as he said he would do. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, I want to get to—to Jonathan on this.

It seems to me that this president is—and I mean this positively—cold-blooded.  I think people who are chief executives of this country and have all the firepower before them, they have to be willing to use it, or they shouldn‘t take the job. 

It‘s very simple.  If you‘re not willing to use our military power, if you‘re not willing to kill people when you have to, you shouldn‘t take that job. 

This president is not a wimp about using power.  In fact, I dare say he is pretty cold-blooded.  He went after the pirates.  He—he actually called for the contract.  He called for the hit.  He did it again here. 

MARTIN:  Chris, do you remember the speech he gave when he received the Nobel Peace Prize?  I think that was a very telling address when he said basically that, of course, he‘s a lover of peace, but as the leader of a country, he looks after America‘s interests.  And there are times when you have to project American force.  And, yes, use weapons of war to protect American lives.  So, I think obviously that‘s what he‘s done here.

But this does I think provide a problem for Republicans on the issue of this narrative.  What you touched on, Chris, the notion that he is somehow weak or, you know, unwilling to sort of use force, he doesn‘t like violence.  He‘s sort of the faculty lounge guy who is unfamiliar with the U.S. military.

He has a ready response for that now for the next year and a half.  He can say, well, you can ask Osama bin Laden about how soft I am.  You‘ll find him at the bottom of the Arabian Sea.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I think he‘s the man that shot Liberty Valance.

Let‘s look at, here‘s former RNC chair, Michael Steele, just yesterday, calling on Republican candidates to get tough when taking on the president.  But he also pointed out the difficult position they find themselves in now.  Let‘s listen to Michael Steele.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER RNC CHAIRMAN:  Right now, the Republican candidates for the nomination are not getting the traction they need to, to go up against the president of the United States, an incumbent president of the United States, who is a formidable campaigner, who‘s a heck of a fundraiser, and who has the wind of the economy, and now, some international success in his sails.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you, Michael, you talk to people all the time.  Do you think they are going to drop the crazy stuff?  Is this bad news for Trump?  Let‘s—only name, the time I‘m going to mention probably tonight.  Is it bad news for him and Palin and Bachmann, the sort of do the Sophie Sails (ph) number?  Are they finished?

SMERCONISH: -- for Trump, because how in the world does he shut down this presidential aspiration in the next three weeks?  That‘s his timetable, without having egg on his face.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

SMERCONISH:  The problem, Chris, I think for the GOP is that they have so narrowed the base, and all the crazy talk incites the base, but offends most of the rest of the country.  So, are they going to continue to placate the base or try and grow the tent?  I see no sign does far that they are ready to grow the tent.  They‘re very content to be insular.  That‘s a losing strategy in the general election.

MATTHEWS:  Well, here‘s Lindsey Graham—I just want to quote Lindsey Graham because I‘ve always respected this guy as a patriot.  He had a not so veiled shot at Donald Trump at his interview for “Politico,” your paper, today.  He said, “I hope this will focus would-be candidates on the seriousness of our times we live in.  When you talk about staying in Iraq and taking their oil, maybe people will stop talking like that.”

He‘s talking about Trump.  Your thoughts, Jonathan.

MARTIN:  Yes, he was talking about Trump.  There was little doubt in my mind when I talked to him on the phone yesterday that that‘s who he had in mind, even though he didn‘t use Trump‘s name.

Look, I think Michael makes a fair point.  But it is May of 2011.  So, there‘s a long way to go here.  A lot of Republicans I talk to say, yes, this has been something of a silly season.

But this is a long primary.  It will clarify itself.  The process will work itself out.  We will get a serious mainstream candidate.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

MARTIN:  You know, if the economy does not recover, that person will be formidable come the fall of 2012.

MATTHEWS:  Well, the problem is we‘re watching the NFL replacement season right now.  Look who‘s going to be in the debate this week on another network.  It is the replacement season.

Look at these guys.  Tim Pawlenty, he‘s for real.  Ron Paul, he‘ll get out by the primary filing season.  Herman Cain, he‘s not going to win probably.  He‘s not even a politician.  Buddy Roemer, he‘s an ex-Democrat, party switchers don‘t do too well in these business.  Gary Johnson, another, I know, former governor of New Mexico.  And Santorum is jumping in now for Pennsylvania.

Michael, this is the replacement season.  This is sort of how Jack Warden and what‘s his name and Gene—Gene Hackman coaching this team.  Your thoughts?

SMERCONISH:  Look, I‘m a political junkie.  And I don‘t think I know half of them myself.  And you‘ve got Romney—you‘ve got Romney on the sideline.  Palin, I don‘t think she goes.  But she‘s on the sideline for this.  Huckabee, I don‘t think he wants a piece of this either.

In the end, Romney is the strongest candidate.  I‘ve always believed that.  But I think he wants to stay out of as much of this primary skirmish as he can.

MATTHEWS:  A late entry.  Thank you.

MARTIN:  Chris—

MATTHEWS:  Yes, go ahead, quickly, Jon, 10 seconds.

MARTIN:  Just real fast, I was going to say that‘s Thursday.  Tomorrow, though, Washington, D.C., Mitch Daniels, here in town, giving a speech on education.  There‘ll be a lot of folks watching that, looking for clues as to what he says, and whether or not he is going to run.

MATTHEWS:  He‘s not going to run.

MARTIN:  We‘re going to know in a period of few weeks.

MATTHEWS:  He‘s not going to run.  I‘ll save you time.  He‘s not going to run.

Thank you, Jonathan Martin.  And thank you, Michael Smerconish.  Human nature tells me he‘s not running.

Up next: the operation that killed Osama bin Laden was managed by a president whose confidence—confidence and cool has always been his strong suit.  What is it about President Obama‘s upbringing that continues to shape his presidency?  That‘s ahead.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  President Obama is going to New York on Thursday.  That‘s in two days.  He‘s going to go to Ground Zero to commemorate the killing of Osama bin Laden by U.S. forces and pay tribute, of course, to those who lost their lives on 9/11.  Ground Zero has been a site of spontaneous celebrations this week since the news of bin Laden‘s death broke Sunday night.

The president will also do an interview for “60 Minutes” tomorrow, which will air on Sunday.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  When I was young, my family lived overseas.  I lived in Indonesia for a few years.  And my mother, she didn‘t have the money to send me where all the American kids went to school.  But she thought it was important for me to keep up with an American education.  So, she decided to teach me extra lessons herself, Monday through Friday.  But because she had to go to work, the only time she could do it was at 4:30 in the morning.

Now, as you might imagine, I wasn‘t too happy about getting up that early.  A lot of times, I‘d fall asleep right there at the kitchen table.  But whenever I would complain, my mother would just give me one of those looks and say, “This is no picnic for me either, buster.”

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I wish we had video of that, of those two at the table, in the kitchen at 4:30 in the morning, mother and son to be president.

Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That is a story that President Obama often told about his mother as he campaigned for president.  And it‘s most—for most of us, it‘s about the only story we know about him.  Now, as we learn more about his courage and poise President Obama showed in going after bin Laden, we‘re going to look at the role of his mother, of course, in shaping his values and his world view.

Janny Scott‘s new book is called “A Singular Woman: The Untold Story of Barack Obama‘s Mother.”

Janny, thank you so much for writing this book.  And I love the picture.  I love the looks of this young woman, this young American woman.  She‘s so young and she had a baby with an African guy and that‘s always interesting—the women who step out, you know, go across racial lines, go across cultural lines and make a big decision.  There he is looking great.

Let me ask you—as you did this book and working on getting ready for publication, with all that involves, what were you thinking of these birthers, these wackos out there, we are all questioning whether she actually existed the way we are watching her, actually had—American mother having an American kid and you knew it all as texturized reality, their absolute wall of truth of it and you‘re listening to these jokers?  What was your reaction to all of that?

JANNY SCOTT, THE NEW YORK TIMES:  It was a little baffling, Chris.  I started working on this during the campaign and the issue did come up then.  But it kind of receded.  And so, I really wasn‘t—it wasn‘t a preoccupation of mine when I was working on the book.

I did, though, in order to do this, I spent two and a half years.  I talked to close to 200 people, not a single person ever mentioned any knowledge of Ann Dunham having spent any time in Kenya, around the time of the birth of her son.  So, I felt pretty comfortable about that.

When it resurfaced, a la Donald Trump, I have to say I was stunned, because I thought it was pretty much a settled issue.  And when it continued, I went back and reconsidered all the evidence, and really came to the conclusion that you and everyone else had come to, that it was a classic conspiracy theory.  And all evidence to the contrary that you think would convince people otherwise was simply viewed as further evidence of a conspiracy.

MATTHEWS:  And for the millionth time, you can the only reason you engage in such a conspiracy, way back before he was born, you intended him to be president someday—this kid, Barack Obama, with an African father.  And that was amazing plan in itself, I have to say, a heroic one.  And you didn‘t have to do it to make him American—he was when he had an American mother.

Let‘s talk about development.  I do think words worth is right, the childless father to the man, and we are who we are very young and we begin to—you meet somebody you went to high school with, they are very much like themselves 50 years later—some more pompous, of course..  But, generally, we are who we were when we were kids.

When you looked at his birth growing one that mom and that dad briefly, what was there that came out later?

SCOTT:  Well, he had a very unconventional mother and that‘s really the story that I was looking at, what was her life like?  This was a person who you know, kind of broke the rules over and over again.  You know, conceived a child with an African man at a time when nearly half the states in the country had laws against interracial marriage, went off to Indonesia a couple years after a huge political and social upheaval in which hundreds of thousands of people were killed, was a single, working mother at a time when very few people were doing that in professions, you know, anthropology and international development in which men had traditionally dominated.  So, he had a very unusual parenting experience.

I think one of—in answer to your question, one of the interesting things that I stumbled upon in Indonesia, where I went several times during the course of working on this, was the notion that there was something almost Javanese about our president.  This is a view you hear from Indonesians, that having gone to school at a critical time in his development, between the ages of six and 10, in a culture that inculcate self-control in an extraordinary way, that was marked by that.

And there were people there who said he learned his cool, his (INAUDIBLE), in Indonesia in that period.  It‘s inculcated through children in a culture of teasing and the notion that you would display emotion is viewed as a loss of self and cool.

MATTHEWS:  So, you see him today in that way, you see the president as he behaves and he conducts these dark arts of going after a bad guy like we did, you see that as cool, that sort of Zen-like behavior?

SCOTT:  Well, I do see a cool in him, as I think most Americans do. 

Many people find it baffling.  And he is—

MATTHEWS:  I do.

SCOTT: -- he, himself, has said that this is a product of probably several things, one of which is just innate temperament.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Janny, I‘m not at all like President Obama.  I look up to him in that way, I guess, because I don‘t know how to behave that way.  But you‘re great to figure this out.  I‘m sorry—that mother looks so interesting and so engaging.

I hope that book sells well.  “A Singular Woman,” about how this mother raised the president.

Thank you very much, Janny Scott.  Congratulations.

SCOTT:  Thank you, Chris.  Thanks.

MATTHEWS:  When we return, “Let Me Finish” with a difference between President Obama‘s reaction to the killing of bin Laden and what it would have been like if a Republican president had done it.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  “Let Me Finish” tonight with a timely thought for everyone, but especially for those on the progressive side of the American debate.

Imagine now, take your time, concentrate your mind.

Now, consider if it was a Republican president who had had captured Osama bin Laden.  Suppose George W. Bush or John McCain had done what has just been done, capturing this country‘s greatest enemy.

Do you think?  Do you think there might have been some element of bragging?

You can just freaking imagine it.  That president would have been placed up on a pedestal so high, you‘d have to take a space shuttle to reach it.  He‘d be up there with Reagan.  They‘d be calling for him to get the Congressional Medal of Honor.

It‘s the difference of the two parties.  A man of the right would be patriot of the century.  President Obama for doing what they only dream of doing gets a week off from having to show his driver‘s license, a week off from Trump and the assorted jackals always out there barking along the president‘s trail.

I think the sister of that 9/11 victim we had on last night said it well when she said how good it was that the killer of all of our American friends 10 years ago ended his days knowing that the friends of those American had come to get him, that we Americans don‘t give up, we don‘t let our killers get away.

Well, that was something wonderfully American about what happened Sunday, something right out of our culture, our myth, our spirit.  The president and his people didn‘t strut about it.  That‘s what makes them different.

Then again, the best cowboy heroes, the genuine lawmen, the good guys of the Old West, from Gary Cooper to Matt Dillon—didn‘t we learn this growing up—were men of few words.

That‘s HARDBALL for now.  Thanks for being with us.

More politics ahead with Cenk Uygur.

           

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