updated 3/12/2004 11:32:31 AM ET 2004-03-12T16:32:31

Guests: Charlie Black, Steve Elmendorf, Mario Cuomo, Jayson Blair, William Cohen

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Tonight the Republican Party gangs up on John Kerry for his description of them as crooks and liars. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  These guys are the most crooked, you know, lying group of people I‘ve ever seen. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  And President Bush unleashes his first negative ads attacking Kerry by name. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  John Kerry, wrong on taxes, wrong on defense. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

I‘m Chris Matthews in New York. 

President Bush attends a memorial for the victims of September 11.  Former New York Governor Mario Cuomo will be here to talk about the president‘s re-election campaign. 

Plus disgraced “New York Times” reporter Jayson Blair will be here.  But with 235 days till the election, the Bush re-election campaign goes on the attack with two new TV ads.  And for the first time they‘re targeting John Kerry by name. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I‘m George W. Bush, and I approved this message.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  A president sets his agenda for America in the first 100 days.  John Kerry‘s plan: to pay for new government spending, raise taxes by at least $900 billion. 

On the war on terror, weaken the Patriot Act used to arrest terrorists and protect America, and he wanted to delay defending America until the United Nations approved. 

John Kerry, wrong on taxes, wrong on defense. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  The ads come one day after Kerry made comments about the Bush administration, that he didn‘t expect anyone to hear. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY:  We‘re going to keep pounding, let me tell you.  We‘re just beginning to fight here.  These guys are—these guys are the most crooked, you know, lying group of people I‘ve ever seen. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  So what do you really think?  Today Kerry said he stood by that remark. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY:  I have no intention whatsoever apologizing for my remarks.  I think these—I think the Republicans need to start talking about the real issues before the country. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Charlie Black is a Republican political strategist. 

Charlie is an advisor to the Bush-Cheney campaign. 

Steve Elmendorf is the deputy campaign manager for John Kerry. 

Let‘s talk about those ads, you first, Charlie Black.  A Republican president—he‘s a Republican, but he‘s also our president, he‘s come out and said John Kerry by name basically didn‘t want to defend this country until he got the approval of the U.N. 

Do you stand by that?

CHARLIE BLACK, ADVISOR, BUSH-CHENEY CAMPAIGN:  Of course.  These are Senator Kerry‘s own words and the criticisms he made of the president going to war in Iraq after the Senate resolution. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, isn‘t this odd for the president of the United States who‘s got the incumbency, he‘s got the Rose Garden, to go this personal, this early?

BLACK:  It‘s not personal, Chris.  These ads are comparison ads based on big issues.  This election is about big issues.  The American people have big choices, and these are two of the choices that we talk about in these ads. 

You know, we have nine Democrats running around the country criticizing the president for months and months.  And Senator Kerry himself has run over 15 different television ads in the primary states criticizing the president. 

So this is not a negative ad.  It is a comparison about where they stand on these huge issues. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Steve.  Do you think it‘s fair to say that your candidate awaited the decision of the United Nations before—you think we should wait for the U.N. to approve an effort to defend our own country?

STEVE ELMENDORF, DEPUTY KERRY CAMPAIGN MANAGER:  No, I don‘t think that‘s fair at all.  And I think it‘s a sign of the Republican desperation that George Bush has run the shortest positive campaign in history. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, what‘s wrong with that particular charge, Steve?

ELMENDORF:  Well, what‘s wrong with that particular charge is that John Kerry believes, just like George Bush‘s father believed, that when you‘re going to go into a major international undertaking, you ought to work with the United Nations and with our allies and try and build support. 

MATTHEWS:  But you should wait till the U.N. approves it before you go ahead and defend your country.  Isn‘t that what the Republicans are saying about John Kerry?

ELMENDORF:  John Kerry believes we ought to go and work with our allies, both at the U.N. and around the world before we go and commit our troops to a foreign soil.  And it was—his father, George Bush—George H.W. Bush did the same thing, and unfortunately, his son didn‘t follow his lead. 

BLACK:  Chris, what Senator Kerry said was he criticized the president for going to Iraq before the United Nations process was allowed to work.  What else can that mean?

MATTHEWS:  Steve?

ELMENDORF:  Well, he could have allowed the process to work, and if the process didn‘t work, he could have decided to do it anyway.  But it would have been a lot better for our relations with the rest of the world if we had gone to the United Nations and gotten a stronger resolution. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe, Steve, that the Republican guys like Charlie here are a bunch of liars and crooks?

ELMENDORF:  I think that the Republican attack machine...

MATTHEWS:  Is Charlie a liar and a crook?  The guy on the other picture here.  Is he a liar and a crook?  Your candidate, John Kerry, says he is.

ELMENDORF:  There is an attack machine out there on the right wing that has—you know, they did it to Max Cleland.  They did it to John McCain in South Carolina, and they‘re going to try and do it to John Kerry. 

MATTHEWS:  Who are you talking about?

ELMENDORF:  They put up pictures...

MATTHEWS:  Who‘s they?  Name some names. 

ELMENDORF:  There‘s all sorts of...

MATTHEWS:  Who are the liars and crooks?  First of all, give me the list of the liars.  Then we‘ll get to the crooks.  Who are the liars in the president‘s camp?

ELMENDORF:  What John Kerry said is there are a lot of people in the Republican Party and in the right wing of this country who are going to come after him, and he‘s not going to put up with him.  And there‘s nothing to apologize about saying that. 

MATTHEWS:  Charlie, are you personally offended by the charge that you‘re one of the liars and crooks?

BLACK:  Well, I appreciate the fact that Steve didn‘t name me, and so please don‘t ask Senator Kerry. 

But listen, if you want to be president, you‘ve got to be more serious than this.  To say somebody is crooked, there‘s a body of law that says that means you‘re accusing them of a crime.  So he either ought to take this back and apologize, the logical thing to do, or he better start specifying who, what crimes, what lies, or this is going to go on for a long time. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think this name-calling is like high school politics, Steve, and it shouldn‘t have been part of this debate?  Do you think it would have been better if his mic had been turned off when he made these remarks?

ELMENDORF:  No, I think it‘s unfortunate that George Bush has nothing positive to say in this campaign, so he started running negative ads.  He‘s the sitting president of the United States. 

He‘s named John Kerry by name earlier than any sitting president ever has, and he‘s run negative ads earlier than any sitting president has because he doesn‘t have anything positive to say about the economy, about jobs. 

MATTHEWS:  But he does have something pretty pointed to say about John Kerry.  I mean, the latest polling tells us, according to the NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll, that the most vulnerable point—here it is, the numbers.  Forty-two percent are concerned about John Kerry‘s changing position, straddling both sides of the same issue. 

He‘s also seen as somewhat vulnerable on the issue of being a Massachusetts liberal, and finally his views on Iraq.  But the big problem that Kerry seems to face with the electorate right now is they think he flips.  Steve? 

ELMENDORF:  I think it‘s amazing that George Bush would make that charge.  I can go through...

MATTHEWS:  No, the polls are saying that. 

ELMENDORF:  Campaign reform, homeland security, where George Bush was on one side and then he went on the other side. 

MATTHEWS:  But why are the people saying that?

ELMENDORF:  I think that John Kerry has a record he‘s proud of, and George Bush unfortunately does not.  So he started the negative campaign attacking us. 

MATTHEWS:  But why—OK.  Let‘s get back to Charlie.

BLACK:  If he was proud of his record...

MATTHEWS:  Why do the American people say that John Kerry flips on issues and he‘s on both sides of some issues?

BLACK:  Because they‘ve begun to hear about all these things on major issues.  He‘s not proud of his record.  He‘s running from his record. 

He‘s out campaigning, denying his record on defense cuts, on intelligence cuts, on taxes, on trade.  This guy was a free trader in the United States Senate for 19 years.  Now he‘s talking protectionist.  People are catching on.  That‘s why they say that. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, didn‘t the president of the United States say that we were going to be against nation-building when he came into office as a candidate?  Didn‘t he say we should have a humble foreign policy when he ran as a candidate, and now he‘s very much different than that?

BLACK:  He did, until the terrorists started a war, and now he‘s at war with the terrorists.  He believes you fight that war in Kandahar and Baghdad, not sit back and wait for them to strike here and treat it as a law enforcement matter, like Senator Kerry has proposed to do. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  We‘re going to come back and talk about when candidates get in trouble when they‘re miked, when they don‘t think they‘re being miked.  John Kerry unplugged.  He‘s not the first.  We‘ll take a look at some of the more famous unguarded moments.  These are the bloopers of American politics. 

And later, President Bush attends a memorial, this is serious, for the victims of 9/11.  I‘ll ask former Governor Mario Cuomo about the Bush campaign. 

Plus terrorists strike 10 trains in Madrid, Spain.  Spanish officials say they found an Arabic language tape in a suspect‘s van near the scene.  Former Defense Secretary William Cohen will be here. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, politicians caught, not knowing when the microphones are on.  John Kerry wasn‘t the first.  We‘ll have some of the best political bloopers when HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. TOM DELAY (R-TX), MAJORITY LEADER:  He called Republican people liars and crooks, and particularly thinking that you were off mic, just shows you who the real person is. 

SEN. RICK SANTORUM ®, PENNSYLVANIA:  We all make mistakes around here.  We all say things we shouldn‘t say, sometimes privately, sometimes publicly.  One of the things you think any politician around here is smart enough to know, when you make a mistake you stand up and you take it and you say, “I made a mistake and I apologize.” 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  John Kerry is under fire from the GOP, as we just heard, for his off-mic comments he made about the Bush administration.  But as HARDBALL election correspondent David Shuster reports tonight, John Kerry isn‘t the first politician to be caught in an unguarded moment without knowing the mics were still on. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  On the House floor today, Republican Congressman Mark Foley. 

REP. MARK FOLEY ®, FLORIDA:  To issue a term about our commander in chief and calling him a liar is disgusting, despicable, and we reject this kind of politics. 

SHUSTER:  Other Republicans are also piling on, convinced that John Kerry made a huge mistake. 

In Chicago on Wednesday, the Senator seemed to forget he was still wearing a microphone when a supporter urged Kerry to fight hard. 

KERRY:  We‘re going to keep pounding, let me tell you.  We‘re just beginning to fight here.  These guys—These guys are the most crooked, you know, lying group of people I‘ve ever seen. 

I have no intention whatsoever of apologizing for my remarks.  I think these—I think the Republicans need to start talking about the real issues before the country. 

SHUSTER:  But the Republicans say it‘s a real issue when Senator Kerry makes remarks that are, quote, “unbecoming of a candidate for the presidency.” however, this is not the first time that a candidate or president has said or done something that was not intended for public consumption. 

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  There‘s Adam Clymer, a major league (expletive deleted) from “The New York Times.”

SHUSTER:  In 1996, there was a big deal to Republicans and some Clinton historians when the president was walking back from a funeral and changed his demeanor as soon as he saw the cameras. 

At the beginning of his presidency, Mr. Clinton once forgot he was wearing a microphone when he bristled at an aide. 

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  You can‘t do that.  You can‘t bring me out here with the mayor and the congressman and push them back. 

SHUSTER:  In a presidential debate in 1992, the cameras caught Bush 41 appearing disinterested. 

In 1984, President Reagan was asked to give a voice test for his weekly radio broadcast. 

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I have signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever.  We begin bombing in five minutes.

LEWIS WOLFSON, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY:  The politicians get caught in those situations, and it does happen.  And it certainly is not surprising it happened in a campaign like this, which has already become intense eight months before the election. 

SHUSTER (on camera):  The Bush campaign has a slight advantage, though, in preventing unguarded moments.  A team called the White House Communications Agency is in charge of the president‘s audio, and they haven‘t made a mistake in years. 

The Kerry campaign is learning, though, and they‘ve increased responsibility for one staffer, whose job it is to make sure that in private moments the Senator‘s microphone gets turned off.

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Charlie Black and Steve Elmendorf.  You know, I caught a senator telling a lesbian joke a few years ago and he got into all kinds of trouble.  But I won‘t repeat his name because he took enough hell for it at the time. 

Steve Elmendorf, in all seriousness, do you think it‘s—is this the way Kerry talks to you when he talks about the Republican crowd, liars and crooks?

ELMENDORF:  Just watching that piece, Chris, this is an overwrought group of people on the Republican side.  I mean, all he said was that there are people out there who are telling lies about him, and there are. 

I mean, look at that guy Ted Sampley, who produced the doctored picture of Jane Fonda and John Kerry.  I mean, there are a lot of people out there in the right-wing groups that are going to tell lies about John Kerry, and he is going to talk about it. 

MATTHEWS:  Charlie, are you—Is this the vast right wing conspiracy?  But you know, he has a point there.  Some clown put out the picture of Jane Fonda sitting next to John Kerry before he was about to give a speech.  It turns out she was in Miami some other day completely from that event. 

BLACK:  Well, you know, that was not somebody who was authorized to do that by the president, or the president‘s campaign. 

The problem with this remark is that anybody who hears it thinks he was talking about the president or senior staff at the White House or senior campaign staff or people close to the president. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, he hasn‘t denied—he hasn‘t denied talking about people at the White House or senior staff.  There are those who say he‘s talking about Bush, though.

BLACK:  Then he‘s accusing—He‘s accusing important people of crimes and he ought to specify what crimes or apologize. 

This reminds me of when President Ford liberated Eastern Europe in the debate.  The fifth or sixth day, he had to take it back.  Kerry will ultimately take this back. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you know, Gerry Ford never did take that back. 

BLACK:  He lost, didn‘t he?

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  He said Poland was free, and it wasn‘t. 

BLACK:  It is now. 

MATTHEWS:  Actually, about 10 years later, he was right.  A little ahead of time. 

Let me ask you about this thing about the tenor of the campaign.  Charlie, it‘s the first time I‘ve seen the president of the United States call the other guy by name. 

And it‘s very interesting, because now because of McCain-Feingold, you have to have to have the president even saying “I authorize this ad.”  Now you have a president personally attacking his opponent for failure to support U.S. defense. 

This is, is it not, based on your vast experience, a new level and escalation in politics here?

BLACK:  No.  I mean, it‘s new to have to have the candidate in every ad.  This may be engaging a little bit earlier than usual.  But that‘s a function of when the Democratic primaries were over and the nature of the attacks on the president during the Democratic primaries. 

But this is not an attack.  This is a comparison on big issues between the two candidates.  These are huge issues facing the American people.  They have a choice on security, defense, and on the economy and tax cuts, and that‘s what we‘re describing.  They‘re issue ads. 

MATTHEWS:  Both of you gentlemen, try to fess up right now.  Charlie, first.  Have you never heard a Republican guy cuss out a Democratic opponent?

BLACK:  Well, I‘m not saying that.  But I have not heard one of our nominees for president talk about the other nominee or his senior staff in such a way.  No, I haven‘t. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me go to Steve Elmendorf.  Do you believe this is the way—I hear politicians talking like this all the time when the camera‘s off.  What do you think, Steve?

ELMENDORF:  You know, John Kerry has nothing to apologize for what he said.  He would have said it if he knew he was on camera or not. 

MATTHEWS:  If you said they were a bunch of liars and crooks, would he tell you to stop?

Anyway, Charlie Black, Steve Elmendorf. 

Up next, former Governor Mario Cuomo on President Bush‘s re-election campaign and his chances to win. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  President Bush was in New York today for a September 11 memorial groundbreaking ceremony and a fund-raiser. 

Senator Kerry was on Capitol Hill today, calling for the support of his colleagues.  The campaign‘s heating up. 

I‘m joined, by the way, by a real political veteran, former New York Governor Mario Cuomo.  He‘s the author of “Lincoln Matters Now More Than Ever.”  Author, politician, statesman, let‘s talk politics. 

MARIO CUOMO, FORMER GOVERNOR OF NEW YORK:  OK.

MATTHEWS:  Why do you think the president is out there fighting so tough so early?  He got out there with Tim Russert on “Meet the Press.”  Sat right out there in front of the desk, mano a mano.  Now he‘s out mano a mano, calling Kerry by name. 

Why isn‘t he using the White House more effectively?

CUOMO:  Well, he started negatively, because he‘s in trouble.  I mean, that‘s not a plea from the Democrats.  I mean, that‘s an objective observation. 

In politics, if you‘re the incumbent president, you would normally start by saying, “Look at what a great job I did.  Give me another four years.” 

He can‘t say that, because his record is close to being an abject failure, especially if you use the Ronald Reagan test.  Are we better off now than we were four years ago?  And of course, we‘re not. 

Clinton left us with 22 million new jobs.  Now we‘re two million in the hole.  Clinton left us with the largest surplus in American history.  Now we have the biggest deficit.  He left us popular all over the world, and now we‘re resented all over the world. 

He has to take Kerry down because he‘s ahead of him and has a free pass, he thinks, in the primary.  So his negativism is good for the Democrats. 

Incidentally, I read a piece today that said with $4.5 million of commercials this last week, he went down in the polls.  Very good sign for our side. 

MATTHEWS:  But isn‘t it fair that the Republicans in their new ad campaign are making the point that this president didn‘t start on a level playing field? 

He started off with a recession which was just about to begin.  He started off with a stock market already tumbling, and with 9/11 coming very quickly on its heels.  He didn‘t start even with Clinton.  He started on a downward path from Clinton. 

CUOMO:  Well, let‘s see.  They‘re using very technical words, and let‘s stay technical. 

He says, “I was stuck with a recession.”  Well, the recession began in March of 2001 and ended in November of 2001.  Now, he doesn‘t say that.  He pretends that the technical recession lasted for three years.  It didn‘t. 

And let‘s...

MATTHEWS:  But isn‘t that a technical point, since we still have a lot of unemployment. 

CUOMO:  Well, let‘s get this clear about the technicalities and the realities. 

Right now the papers are filled with economy is recovering, economy is strong.  Growth is good. 

Growth in China, eight percent.  And spokespeople starving to death.  There‘s a big difference between a technically good economy, which is production, distribution and consumption of goods, and whether your people are doing well. 

What you should say is the economy is good by all the economic standards.  However, 140 million workers are in deep doo-doo; 15 million of them are either out of work, working part time, or quit on looking for work. 

Their wages go up a point a year, if they go up at all, the ones who are working.  The cost of welfare—health care goes up 12 percent.  Housing goes up.  They‘re sliding down; 35 million people are going nowhere.  Eleven million of them are children, and that‘s with a good economy, so-called. 

Sure it‘s a good economy.  You have people working for you at half the price or 1/10 the price overseas.  And so you‘re making money.  This is a good economy, and this isn‘t politics.  This is the objective truth. 

This is a good economy if you‘re a big corporation, if you have a lot of shares in a good corporation. 

For them, they‘re doing well.  Why?  They put people to work overseas, it‘s cheaper.  You know, they get rid of the health care costs, which is a big problem. 

So you know, when we read news that says the economy is terrific, ask yourself.  Terrific for whom?  You have 140 million workers.  It‘s not good for them. 

Listen, one out of five of our workers are high skilled.  One out of five of our workers, Chris, are high skilled.  Why?  Undereducated.  That‘s one of our big problems. 

MATTHEWS:  But you know, Governor, that the great strength of the Republican Party politically and the reason they control the House and the Senate federally, nationally, is because they promised lower taxes.  That‘s always been a big New York issue. 

But as long as the Republicans say we‘re going to give you lower taxes, isn‘t that the best sales pitch you can offer?

CUOMO:  You know, the president—with all due respect—is very blunt.  You know, you need tools to build a great America.  His tool is the wedge.  That‘s the simplest tool known to mankind. 

He says, “I‘m going to reduce everybody‘s taxes, and that‘s going to make the economy strong.”  Nonsense. 

He reduces $3 trillion in taxes by one count, or $3 trillion total. 

Forty percent of that—say $1 trillion, goes to the top two percent.  That‘s me and my clients at Wilkie Farr & Gallagher.  That‘s less than two million people. 

Now, what did that $1 trillion do for you?  Get invested in the economy?  Of course not.  We have plenty of investment money.  Did it get spent so that your consumption went up, the economy seven percent?  No. 

If you wanted to help the economy, give all the tax cuts to the middle class.  Give it to the 140 million people who would spend it, because they have to.  Give it to the poor people. 

MATTHEWS:  But that‘s not the Republican philosophy, because the Republicans believe in investment, not consumption.  They believe the best thing to do is create an investor class, which will support and finance the industry. 

CUOMO:  Chris, the economy is 70 percent consumption.  We have investor money.  We‘re not short investor money.  We‘re short consumers spending money in this market. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s come back and talk about the Supreme Court and maybe whether John McCain is serious about potentially entertaining the idea of running on the Democratic ticket nationally.

We‘ll be back with Mario Cuomo in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  This half-hour on HARDBALL, former New York Governor Mario Cuomo on President Bush, John Kerry, and the role of 9/11 in the presidential campaign.  Plus, a deadly terror attack in Spain.  And “New York Times” reporter Jayson Blair, he repeatedly lied in “The Times.”  And he has a new book out about his experience.

But first, the latest headlines right now. 

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

We‘re back with more with former New York Governor, Mario Cuomo, three-time governor up here.

Do you think John McCain was serious, even for a second, when he was on “Good Morning America” yesterday and said he would entertain the idea of being on John Kerry‘s ticket? 

CUOMO:  No, he would entertain by saying he entertained

(CROSSTALK) 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Well, he let the story roll for eight hours.

CUOMO:  Yes, no, he‘s—I think he was trying to say nice things about John Kerry, whom he likes and who he‘s worked closely with.  And he‘d be a great addition on the ticket, but it‘s not going to happen. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you think about the Republicans having their convention here in New York?  Guess why?  September. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Do you think they‘re here to exploit the anniversary? 

They‘re having it right on the eve of the horror. 

CUOMO:  No, I don‘t think they‘re coming to exploit the anniversary.  I think they thought they were going to be able to exploit it, and they made a big mistake, very big mistake. 

They‘re going to be hospitably treated by the mayor, who is a Republican, etcetera.  But they‘re going to see an outpouring from Democrats in this state who really do not like the Republican president.  And it‘s going to be very obvious, and it‘s going to be obvious on television I‘m sure.  So I think, if they had to do it again, they might not have made the same judgment. 

MATTHEWS:  Was it too cute?

CUOMO:  Yes, I think so.  And 9/11 is not going to be a big hit for the president, I don‘t think.  Before this campaign is over, I think 9/11, terrorism, Iraq, is going to be a pig problem for the president, maybe not as big as the economy, which we know is going to be a big problem.  But those people who think, well, the president may win this thing because of Iraq, he may lose this thing because of Iraq, because Iraq was a war we didn‘t need.  And almost everybody knows that. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Why did we fight it?  What do you think the true motivation was?  It wasn‘t WMD, was it? 

CUOMO:  One of the most significant interviews I‘ve ever seen was on a television show a few weeks ago.  It wasn‘t yours, but it was NBC.  It was Tim, when President Bush actually said this. 

Yes, we were probably wrong about the complicity between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda.  Yes, we were probably wrong about WMD, but, no, we weren‘t wrong to go to war, because he was a barbarous person.  Now, he said this a year after the war, knowing that we had lost 1,000 men and women, that the Iraqis had lost maybe 10,000 people who were innocent, that we had 100,000 more people there, that we had lost the whole world‘s respect. 

He knew all of that and sat there and said, I would do it again, in effect.  Well, either he lied—and I‘m not willing to believe that.  That‘s God‘s judgment.  I don‘t know what was in his heart and soul.  But if he didn‘t lie, it was the most grotesque mistake by a president in history. 

MATTHEWS:  Why doesn‘t he admit that? 

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO:  He went—because he can‘t, because if he were to sit and tell the people, look, I made a terrible mistake, how could you possibly let him be president again? 

Incidentally, he did make a mistake.  Either it was a sinister plot, and I won‘t say that, or it was a grow terrific mistake.  In either case, how can you allow him to be president and do it again, when what he said, in effect, is, I would do it again under the same circumstances?  It‘s not an imminent situation.  It‘s not an imminent threat.  You don‘t have weapons of mass destruction, but you‘re a bad guy and you might some day do it to me.  That‘s what preemption means. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

CUOMO:  To have that as the preemptive doctrine against North Korea, against Iran, a moment of madness, without checking with anybody, that will bring him down, if nothing else does. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  This doctrine of preemptive attack, this whole notion of forward leaning, the lingo of this, the WMD, the regime change, all this new language we‘ve learn in the last years, do you think that‘s him or it‘s the people around him, starting with Cheney and Rumsfeld and their deputies, people in the National Security Council?  Do you think there‘s an ideology around him that‘s so strong on this whole question of us against them that he was overwhelmed by it, or do you think it was clearly his policy? 

CUOMO:  No, I think he was pushed by these people. 

But I think he started with his own—this is a terrible word—perhaps naive.  He hadn‘t traveled around the world.  He hadn‘t been in international affairs like his father.  And remember what he said before he became president, no nation-building for me. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

CUOMO:  Well, forget about it now.  What are you crazy?  Nation-building?  We‘re the hegemon, baby.  We‘re going to be—we‘re going to stay here and get rich. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

CUOMO:  See, what is now clear is, he is simply too simple, to the point of being simplistic.  He thinks all you have to do is be strong, have a strong army, and you‘ll beat anybody.  You can‘t win the terrorism war with an army.  You obviously can‘t or Sharon would have won it a long time ago in Israel. 

You can‘t win it with just an army.  Sure you need an army.  He thinks you can solve the economic problem by giving all his rich friends a lot of money and they‘ll invest it for you and 140 million people will go to work.  Well, that‘s obviously not true.  He‘s simplistic.  He may be utterly sincere.  You know, he talks about wedge issues.  Wedge is a good word for the tools he uses.  The simplest tool known to mankind is the wedge. 

MATTHEWS:  Right, but look at how effective it‘s been politically.  He says cut taxes to help the economy go.  Fight the enemy with everything you‘ve got, even if you have to jump them and have a surprise attack on them.  Jump them, preemptive attack.  And the American people say, yes, that‘s called strength.  You call it simplistic.  They say it‘s clearheadedness. 

And you‘ve got Kerry on the other side, who voted for authority to fight the war, but didn‘t say he was actually for it. 

CUOMO:  Well, let‘s go back.  Now you say to the American people, because now you have your turn, you Democrats, and you say, look, he says, tax cuts produce jobs. 

They don‘t produce jobs.  They don‘t produce a good economy for you.  They may produce economy for themselves.  And tax cuts to the wealthiest people, which is not going to be spent on consumption?  What makes the economy go is consumption, buying goods and services.  When you give a person who‘s a supermillionaire more money, he or she doesn‘t spend it.  They just hide it. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

CUOMO:  They put it away.  And so we say this.  We want tax cuts?  Yes, for you 140 million workers.  Let‘s take the $1 trillion back from the rich people, who do not need it.  Remember his first rationale in 2001?  I‘m giving the money back because we don‘t need it. 

MATTHEWS:  Big surplus. 

CUOMO:  Well, he was wrong. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, he was right then, but the surplus has disappeared. 

CUOMO:  OK.

So then now if you want to be intelligent, I was wrong, let me take back the $1 trillion and spend it on health care, tax cuts and education for 140 million workers. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

Judge Rehnquist is going to resign from the court this year as chief justice. 

CUOMO:  Amen.

MATTHEWS:  Have you ever had second thoughts about the opportunity you did have clearly—it was publicly known—to serve on the high court? 

CUOMO:  No.  The person who served instead was Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  And I think she‘s done a fine job.  I‘m chilled by the notion that he‘s going to step down and maybe one or two others and that President Bush might have the opportunity. 

What he said was, I want another Clarence Thomas.  I want another Nino Scalia.  I know Nino Scalia, very smart guy.

MATTHEWS:  He‘s great. 

CUOMO:  Yes, but I‘d rather he was chief of a corporation somewhere. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  OK.

CUOMO:  But the idea that he could have three more choices and control

this court and undo a lot of the good work that the Supreme Court has done,

that‘s a chilling

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s one of the big stakes in election, isn‘t it?

CUOMO:  It is indeed. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, former New York longtime Governor, author of “Lincoln Now More Than Ever”—“Lincoln Matters Now More Than Ever,” Mario Cuomo. 

Up next, terrorists strike in Spain in a highly choreographed attack.  Former Defense Secretary William Cohen is going to join us to talk about that.

And later, ex-“New York Times” reporter Jayson Blair will be here.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, deadly terror attacks in Spain; plus, ex-“New York Times” reporter Jayson Blair—when HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

More than 190 people are dead and 1,200 wounded after a series of 10 bombs ripped through the trains in Madrid this morning.  Spain‘s prime minister blamed the Basque separatist group ETA.  But Spanish officials say they have found an Arabic tape with verses from the Koran near the scene. 

William Cohen served as secretary of defense during the Clinton administration.  He presided over the Defense Department during the bombings of the African Embassies in Kenya and of course in Tanzania and of the USS Cole.

Mr. Secretary, thanks for joining us. 

This presents us with a very sophisticated challenge.  The Spanish were hit.  Do you think that was an assault by the Islamic militants against us as well? 

WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  We don‘t know who was responsible for this terrible, unspeakable act of brutality, but it‘s clear that ETA in the past has resorted to bombing. 

In fact, just a few weeks ago, the police were able to intercept a group that were seeking to bring some 1,100 pounds of TNT, or dynamite, to the capital.  So it‘s hard to say whether it was ETA separatists or al Qaeda cells operating inside Spain.  But, clearly, any country that is an open democracy faces the same kind of potentiality for these groups to inflict that kind of damage. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you see as our role of in terms of—if it does come down to an attack by the ETA, the Basque separatists, is that a domestic Spanish situation we should stay out of? 

COHEN:  I think it‘s a case where—wherever you have acts of terrorism, it really calls upon all of us to share whatever intelligence we can, whatever assistance we can provide to any government that is willing to accept that assistance or ask for that assistance. 

But I think this is clear that we have to cooperate on an international, global basis, that there are groups out there that are dedicated to the destruction of Western-style democracy as we know it. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think the way went in alone, largely alone with regard to Europe, to go to Iraq undermines our ability to operate in this multinational fashion you describe? 

COHEN:  I don‘t think it undermines that ability. 

I think more and more countries are coming to the conclusion that wherever they are, there are groups, be they tied to al Qaeda or some other jihadist group, that they‘re all vulnerable now.  And the intersection of technology and terrorism I think is a problem for everyone.  The fact that we went in largely on our own with our British friends, but not solely the two of us, I think is really not the dispositive issue.  I think every civilized country now understands that they‘re at risk. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe that the European powers would side with us and with Israel against Hamas and Hezbollah, the terrorist groups trying to take back Europe for the Arab side? 

COHEN:  I think that there is a consensus that there has to be a Middle East peace settlement as such, and that there has to be leadership taken by the United States.  That may involve European countries, to be sure.  But the United States is the only country that really can help bring the parties together, and I think it needs continued U.S. leadership. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think the capture of bin Laden, which we hope will come in the next couple of months, will end this? 

COHEN:  I don‘t think it will end it.  I think it will be an important event, but I think it would be a mistake for us to concentrate on the capture or killing of bin Laden. 

I think he is obviously the figurehead and he may be the mastermind, to some degree, but there are many, many cells that are in existence throughout the world, and I think his capture or killing would not end their dedication to the destruction of our societies. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you were in office with President Clinton back in the 1990s.  Did you think there was a chance missed then to catch this guy? 

COHEN:  There may have been some chances that were missed.  We tried, for example, to hit bin Laden and a group of gathering terrorists in Afghanistan.  Had to do it by long-range missiles, a very hard way to either hit an individual or a group of individuals. 

So we tried when we had the occasion when I was in office.  But he‘s very hard to locate.  As you‘ll note, we have thousands of people in Afghanistan now still trying to find him, going from—virtually from cave to cave.  So to try and do it long distance from the ocean was virtually impossible. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about “The New York Times” report this week that said that the vice president had to be corrected a number of times, the administration had to be corrected on its use of intelligence regarding the war with Iraq.  It had to do with the question of whether there was a real strong tie between al Qaeda, which may well be implicated in this Spanish attack today, and the government of Saddam Hussein, whether those vehicles over there were in fact biological weapons, conclusive evidence of a biological warfare capability, and whether there was in fact an attempt or successful attempt by Saddam Hussein to buy uranium in Africa. 

He said, in all three cases, Tenet said, the director of the CIA, that he had to correct the administration when they made those claims, when in fact they weren‘t accurate.  Does that bother you? 

COHEN:  Well, I think what—the question that has to be asked and answered through the various committees and investigative bodies that are looking at this is, what did the president and the policy-makers know and how did they know it? 

In other words, what was the sources of information on which they based their decisions?  This is something that‘s now under intense investigation.  And I think we have to await the conclusion of those investigations.  But where the information came from, how reliable were the sources, how many sources, all of that I think will be important before we can answer that question. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think it‘s possible that U.S. officials or people who wanted to push this war were involved with Chalabi and the other exiles in the community and helped put together evidence that was fed to our intelligence agencies, perhaps through CIA, perhaps through the people in the Defense Department?  Do you think that‘s an outside possibility?

(CROSSTALK)

COHEN:  It‘s a possibility that there was intelligence that was fed through various sources that were not reliable or credible and that the accumulation of those sources were a factor.  I don‘t know the answer to that question, but it‘s possible. 

MATTHEWS:  But doesn‘t it rock you to know that none of it was accurate at all? 

COHEN:  Well, I think, if any mistake was made, it was creating the impression that we were going to absolutely find weapons of mass destruction. 

My own view was that we were basing it upon assumption.  Was it reasonable to assume, for example, he had past possession of weapons of mass destruction, he had past use of weapons of mass destruction, he had persistent refusal to comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions?  Was it reasonable to conclude that he still had them? 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

COHEN:  And the burden was on him to satisfactory the international community that he didn‘t have them or that he had to make a full accounting. 

So I think that was really the central justification, failure to fully account, and that we raised perhaps expectations that we would go in and find them, maybe true, and we may ultimately find them.  But I think the real key test was, did he fail to fully account for them?  And the answer was yes. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much.  Thank you very much, William Cohen.

COHEN:  OK.

MATTHEWS:  Former defense secretary in the Clinton administration. 

Up next, ex-reporter Jayson Blair, who fabricated stories in “The New York Times.” 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Joining me right now in New York is Jayson Blair, once a rising star at “The New York Times” who resigned after being caught for fraud and plagiarism.  The scandal nearly collapsed the gray lady, taking down two of the newspaper‘s top editors, Howell Raines and Gerald Boyd. 

Blair has written his memoir.  It‘s called “Burning Down My Masters‘ House:

My Life at the New York Times.”

I‘d like the title, because nobody notices this, but masters has an S-apostrophe. 

JAYSON BLAIR, FORMER “NEW YORK TIMES” REPORTER:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re not talking about “The Times.”  Who are you talking about? 

BLAIR:  I‘m talking about myself.  I‘m talking about primarily being the master of my own destiny and me tearing down the house. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you the captain of your ship? 

BLAIR:  I am.  Ultimately, I was responsible for my own actions.  I was never so impaired that I didn‘t know what was going on, couldn‘t see right from wrong.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

BLAIR:  I made the bad choices. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you the two toughest questions.  I told you I was going to ask them.  I‘m going to ask them right now.

Why—you are such a damn good writer, a creative force.  You have fluency and life.  Anybody who picks—I‘m not saying by this book.  I‘m saying, look at it in the book store, pick it up and read a couple of pages.  It moves.  It‘s got air.  It‘s got oxygen, the thing you always look for in a writing.  What‘s it like to be that creative?  You are obviously a guy who can knock out 120,000 words in a month. 

BLAIR:  I enjoy it.

MATTHEWS:  Nobody else can do that. 

BLAIR:  No, I enjoy it.  But like all writers and like all people, I‘m insecure, and I was insecure while I was at “The Times” about how good I was.  It really took, you know...

MATTHEWS:  You‘re up there with Johnny Apple.  You‘re one of these guys who can do it magically.  Do you know that?

BLAIR:  But I did not know it.  I did not know it until afterwards. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, what‘s it like to be a liar? 

BLAIR:  I‘ll tell what you it‘s like to be a liar.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  When I say something I think is even slightly not right, it bugs me.

BLAIR:  You don‘t sleep well at night, Chris.  You just don‘t sleep well at night.  

MATTHEWS:  So when you were saying you were in this place or that place and you were filing phony deadlines and never leaving Brooklyn, which I want to get to...

BLAIR:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  What were you feeling when you got up?  Were you getting drunk? 

(CROSSTALK)

BLAIR:  You know, I was hoping—no, I was clean and sober during this time period.  I was dealing with some undiagnosed mental illness, but I don‘t want to—manic depression—but I don‘t want to make that as an excuse.  I knew what I was doing was wrong.  It was my character flaw.

MATTHEWS:  Most guys—you‘re single, especially.  You don‘t have a family to worry about.

BLAIR:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  You have a girlfriend.  But what‘s wrong with getting on a plane?  Wasn‘t it easier and more fun?  Hey, let me go see a new place today?

BLAIR:  You know how it started, Chris? 

MATTHEWS:  Why did you want to stay home in Brooklyn and write a story you could write in a nicer place? 

BLAIR:  Right.  Right.  You know how it started?

MATTHEWS:  Not that—Park Slope ain‘t bad.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  But why didn‘t you want—why didn‘t you want to get on a plane and spend some money from “The Times” and go cover the stories?  You‘re brilliant.  Why didn‘t you do it?

BLAIR:  I would love to.  I love traveling.  I love seeing places.  But it started off as me being sick, me not understanding these things mentally that were going on, and I thought it would last a week.  I‘d just do it once. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But you had the best domestic story in this country, because it was so good to us.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  The sniper case

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Great story.

BLAIR:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Why didn‘t you want to be there, smelling around, sniffing around, talking to people?  This guy was hitting people of all races, all background.  This was a crazy, horrible story.

(CROSSTALK)

BLAIR:  I started off actually working down there, came back to New York, started to not feel so well, thought I would just do it once and not show up.  And then, all of a sudden, it became once, twice, month, two months. 

MATTHEWS:  You weren‘t getting a secret kick out of the fact that you were breaking stuff nobody else could get, because it didn‘t exist? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... the other papers saying, down there saying, God, where did you get this guy Blair get this stuff?  You got it out of your head or your keister.  You got it out of somewhere. 

(CROSSTALK)

BLAIR:  No, no.  Sometimes, I did have sources backing up the stories, telephone calls.  But, for the most part, you know, I did get a secret giggle at moments.  But for the most part, I was just screwed up trying to take care of myself. 

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t think—you don‘t think much of your readers at “The Times,” do you? 

BLAIR:  What do you mean? 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you were lying to them. 

BLAIR:  Yes.  I was lying to them.

MATTHEWS:  Forget the management.  They‘re all big shots.

BLAIR:  No.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Everybody in this—in the Manhattan world right now is not a rich guy.  They‘re not some snot. 

BLAIR:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  They‘re some people who work hard.  They bust their butt.  And they picked up the paper, the best paper in the world, and they hope they are getting the facts.  And what were they getting from you?  And didn‘t that bother you?

(CROSSTALK)

BLAIR:  No, no, no, it was fraud.  It was fraud.  I was defrauding them. 

And what I hope comes out of this, Chris, is that people can look at my situation and they‘ll be able to look at this, see how I did it, and learn how to prevent anyone from ever doing it again.  That‘s part of the reason I‘m coming clean.  Part of it is personal catharsis for me, but also part of it is that I hope journalism is better and there is not another Jayson Blair.  We talked a little bit about Nick Lemon‘s (ph) piece.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Yes, he wrote it for—he wrote it for “The New Yorker.”

BLAIR:  He wrote it for “The New Yorker.”

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But it‘s tough. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  It basically says, what you need to have—I‘ll tell you what he said. 

BLAIR:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  This is Nick Lemon, one of the best writers around.  He is head the Columbia Journalism, the J. School now.  He says what you have to do is just like when I go through the airport all the time, or you should have been going through the airport and then taking your shoes off. 

BLAIR:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Every once in a while, they say you‘re an S, S, S, S, S. 

You‘re going over here in this column.

BLAIR:  Right.  Spot check.

MATTHEWS:  Why isn‘t somebody checking out these sort of—the old goat‘s herd was going down the street in Bangalore and you could hear the pots and pans banging and then they check and see if he was ever in Bangalore.  Wouldn‘t that be nice? 

(CROSSTALK)

BLAIR:  Right.  Exactly. 

And I think they should randomly spot check expense reports, sources and stories.  It‘s just like after Watergate.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

(CROSSTALK)

BLAIR:  This is like after Watergate.  We got the inspector general‘s act.  My dad is an inspector general.  And it‘s a beautiful thing for the government.  Random inspections keeps people clean.

I‘ve got to tell you, Chris, no matter how sick I was, if I knew people were doing random inspections of my work, I would have paused.  I know that much. 

MATTHEWS:  The deterrence works?

BLAIR:  Hell yes.

MATTHEWS:  So if you had been called in and vetted right away after a bad story, you would have stopped? 

BLAIR:  I would have been more likely to reach out for help. 

MATTHEWS:  Look at the camera.  Talk to the J. students right now. 

What do you got to say to them, journalism students right now? 

BLAIR:  If I have anything to say to journalism students, I would say, look, don‘t follow my path and not only not just lying, but believe in yourself.  Understand how good you are.  Do not, do not, do not sacrifice your integrity to try and propel your career, because, at the end of the day, being a man of honor is what‘s going to get you to sleep at night and also make you a quality journalist. 

MATTHEWS:  What are you going to do next? 

BLAIR:  I think I‘m going to write a novel.  If I‘m as good a writer

as you say I am

(CROSSTALK) 

MATTHEWS:  You know why?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  We know you have the two qualities necessary.  You‘re a great writer and you know how to lie. 

BLAIR:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Because that‘s in fact what fiction is. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Hemingway was a brilliant liar.  He lied about his war record.  He lied about it, right?  He—his girlfriends, his love life.  And we loved it, because we thought it was him. 

BLAIR:  I‘m going to try not to lie anymore. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And that‘s the difference between fiction and nonfiction.

BLAIR:  I‘m going to try not to lie anymore.  So...

MATTHEWS:  Well, you‘ve got the brains, Jayson. 

BLAIR:  Thanks, Chris.  I appreciate you having me here.

MATTHEWS:  It was nice to you.  Good luck with your book.  I especially say to people, don‘t necessarily buy it, but take a look at it and see if you like the writing. 

Join us again tomorrow night at 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  I‘ll be joined by a roundtable of reporters who covered the war in Iraq. 

Right now, it‘s time for the “COUNTDOWN” with Keith.

END   

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