updated 3/26/2004 12:55:24 AM ET 2004-03-26T05:55:24

Guests: Kristen Breitweiser, William Cohen, Tucker Eskew, Karen Tumulty

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Tonight we live in a more dangerous world.  The face of that world is the 16-year-old boy in the West Bank city of Nablus, explosives strapped to his chest.  He was arrested before he could become a suicide bomber.  That‘s the best part of a bad day in a terrorist world. 

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews. 

The United States cast a lone veto today to a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israel for its assassination of Hamas leader Sheikh Yassin. 

And al Qaeda No. 2 man, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the planner of the 9/11 attacks, promised today to kill Pakistan‘s President Musharraf, America‘s last remaining Islamic leader in the front against terrorism. 

And 9/11 families are still trying to understand what the government did or did not do to protect their loved ones. 

But first, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, Al Gore, and John Kerry gather tonight to demonstrate unity as the Bush/Cheney campaign releases new ads that highlights the president‘s leadership and attack John Kerry‘s economic record. 

Howard Fineman is with us, here at our headquarters.  Let‘s begin with what has been billed as the Democratic unity dinner with MSNBC election analyst and former Howard Dean campaign manager, Joe Trippi. 

Joe, how is it going over there at the hotel?  Is this going swimmingly between Dean, your old boss and candidate, and John Kerry, the presumptive nominee?

JOE TRIPPI, MSNBC ELECTION ANALYST:  It‘s going great, Chris.  I mean, the Democratic Party really is unified in ways I haven‘t seen before. 

We came out of a tough battle.  A lot of candidates had a hard fought fight.  But George Bush has really unified the party in terms of bringing people together.  And the campaign staffs are all here.  All the candidates are here.  And I think it‘s going to be a great night for the party. 

MATTHEWS:  What about the release of that new magazine article, I think it‘s in “Atlantic” by Paul Naslum (ph), your former colleague, the pollster for Howard Dean, saying that Dean and Kerry are as different and as unapproachable to each other as oil and water?

TRIPPI:  Well, I think in the campaign, you know, in the heat of the campaign, in the competitiveness of it, a lot of us felt that way, probably on both sides.  But hat‘s water under the bridge now. 

I mean, this is about beating Bush.  There‘s—The governor is committed to doing everything he can to aid John Kerry and help him defeat Bush.  And that‘s something that all the people in the Dean campaign were trying to do and I think all the other campaigns. 

I think yes, that may have been there at one time.  But I don‘t believe it‘s there anymore.  I think there‘s a unity and real commitment. 

HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK”:  Joe, it‘s Howard Fineman.  How do you think the Kerry people are going to try to use Dean?  Is he going to be on college campuses?  Is he going to be working western New Hampshire?  That might be enough in and of itself.  What‘s he going to do and where can they send him, or what will they do?

TRIPPI:  Well, I think the first thing is obviously to get as many of the Dean supporters out there, and they‘re a pretty active people, to engage in help in the John Kerry effort in defeating Bush. 

I think he‘s going to be able to energize those people and keep them in the party.  A lot of them were folks that haven‘t been involved in politics before, so that‘s pretty critical. 

Yes, I think young people on college campuses across this country and the Democratic base, there‘s no one, you know, really that energizes folks and gets them motivated as much as the governor does in the organization that he has built out there. 

MATTHEWS:  Joe, there‘s one person that energizes your party, and that‘s the president.  They don‘t like him.  I want to know if they like him less after his performance last night. 

We‘re going to show him right now doing his long rift of jokes, making fun of the so-called funny fact that we haven‘t been able to find weapons of mass destruction which was the reason given for the war in Iraq. 

Here he is. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be somewhere. 

Nope.  No weapons over there. 

Maybe under here. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, there‘s four or five cases where the president told a yuck about the fact he couldn‘t find weapons of mass destruction and the press being supportive in their laughter.  Maybe sycophantic, but they laughed. 

Are the people in the Democratic Party laughing at the president‘s sense of humor?

TRIPPI:  No, no way.  I mean, this is one of the critical things that Governor Dean brought up.  I mean, that there were no weapons of mass destruction, that this was used to get the American people to support the war. 

For the president to make a joke about it and for the press to laugh at it, I think, really gets back to a lot of the people in the Democratic Party‘s whole discomfort with the way the press handled the war in the first place with the embeds and not really having a real debate about why we went in the first place. 

And Howard Dean led the fight to create that debate.  And I think the president really made a mistake last night with those jokes. 

MATTHEWS:  I wonder if they‘re spending a day at Walter Reed Hospital with the --- all the guys who had limbs amputated and brain injuries and things like that, how funny they think it is that the reason they were given for fighting this war is now the butt of humor...

FINEMAN:  Yes, well, Chris...

MATTHEWS:  ... by their commander in chief.

FINEMAN:  Both you and I were there last night.  And what‘s interesting is that I think in the room, the myopia in the room, that was the beltway of the beltway there. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.

FINEMAN:  That was the absolute ground zero of Washington thinking, once again showing the disconnection between here and out there in the country.  Yes, the press but yes, everybody else there, too. 

MATTHEWS:  But didn‘t you in your subconscious gut, in your conscience, think this isn‘t anything to be funny about?

FINEMAN:  What I thought was he was taking too far your old advice in your book, “Hardball...”

MATTHEWS:  Hang a lantern.

FINEMAN:  ... hang a lantern on your problem.  But I didn‘t understand, not viewing it through the eyes of a 9/11 family. 

Let me also say, the 9/11 families are going to be crucial in this presidential election.  Most of them are going to be for the Democrats, I think.  They‘re going to be a huge weapon in the political wars to come. 

MATTHEWS:  What struck me is the fact that Richard Clarke, who‘s not supposed to be a politician was the guy who apologized, you might argue presumptuously, because he‘s not that big a deal.  But he apologized for the U.S. government on the same day the president thought the war—the reason for the war we thought, supposedly to get even for 9/11, was a joke. 

FINEMAN:  Chris, that apology by Clarke was the opening salvo in the effort of the 9/11 families to eventually be compensated not only by the Saudis but by American officials.  It‘s going to be a huge part of this campaign, I can assure you. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Joe Trippi, who‘s at the Democratic Party tonight.  Howard Fineman‘s staying with us for the night.

Coming up, the politics of 9/11.  The Bush administration continues to fight back against allegations of inaction levied by former White House advisor Richard Clarke. 

Will America ever get the truth about who knew what?  And the threat of al Qaeda before it happened?

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) 

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, searching for answers on 9/11.  We‘ll talk to a victim‘s widow and to Secretary Bill Cohen when HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice refused to testify at the 9/11 commission‘s public hearings this week.  And now NBC News has learned that Ms. Rice is requesting an additional private interview, not under oath, with the commission. 

Kristen Breitweiser is a 9/11 widow who attended this week‘s public hearings.  She fought for the creation of the independent commission on the 9/11 attacks. 

Kristen, thanks for joining us again.  Just your thoughts, no coaching.  Anything comes to mind.  What did you think of the hearings this week?

KRISTEN BREITWEISER, HUSBAND DIED ON 9/11:  Honestly, I was disappointed with the hearings, with some of the commissioners.  I felt that in some respects, they lowered themselves to partisan politics, which is starkly in contrast to what the families wanted.  We wanted an independent commission removed from the political process that would truly honor our lost loved ones. 

MATTHEWS:  But just as there were pro-Democrat or anti-administration member of the commission, there clearly were some pro administration spokespeople like John Lehman, like Jim Thompson.  Do you think it was wrong to have people in there who were pro-administration on that commission?

BREITWEISER:  Frankly, the commissioners, I think, need to do a self-examination and determine who they‘re really representing on this commission.  Are they representing the interests of the families and the rest of the nation?  Or are they representing certain Washington individuals?

And I think that they really need to make that decision prior to their writing of the final report.  The families want a transparent definitive comprehensive final report removed from politics. 

It is such an insult to sit through hearings that we have waited two and a half years to have and have to bear witness to such partisan politics. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think that some of the Republican commissioners were given talking points?  Or given material to make on behalf of the administration‘s efforts?

BREITWEISER:  I really couldn‘t say, Chris.  I think that certainly I would have hoped that certain commissioners had read the joint inquiry of Congress‘s report.  It‘s 900 pages with 19 recommendations. 

And given such fervor and interest and lines of questioning regarding the information in that report, as opposed to Mr. Clarke‘s book. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about Condi Rice.  Here‘s what National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice said about the 9/11‘s attacks in May of last year.  Actually of 2002. 

Let‘s take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR:  I don‘t think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center, take another one and slam it into the Pentagon, that they would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile.  All of this reporting about hijacking was about traditional hijacking. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of that right now, Kristen?  That statement was two years ago. 

BREITWEISER:  You know, Chris, the families would like Dr. Rice to testify under oath in a public hearing.  She made a very public statement and I think one of two things.  Either she flat out lied or she‘s incompetent, because the historical record is replete with instances of planes being used as missiles. 

I can hold up the joint inquiry report.  You see all the post-its on here, indicating instances of planes being used as missiles, of al Qaeda being interested in using plane as missiles of attacks in the homeland. 

And I think that she needs to go before the American people and set the record straight.  These facts need to be reconciled, and I would encourage her to set a moral precedent, a precedent that 3,000 lost lives warrant. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about a particular bit of evidence this week that Richard Clarke produced.  He talked about the fact that he had produced—planning had been produced to defend against aerial attack, this kind of attack roughly, on the Atlanta Olympics. 

Did that strike you as proof on the record that there was thinking ahead of time about a possible attack by hijacked planes?

BREITWEISER:  Chris, unfortunately, with all the research that some of the family members like myself have done, that is certainly not the only proof. 

You could look at the attempt to fly a plane into the Eiffel Tower, the attempts revealed in the Bojinko (ph) plot of blowing up airliners over the Pacific.  Or in the alternative, flying an airliner into CIA headquarters. 

And again, we know that the Atlanta games included work-ups or mock procedures to protect an aerial attack, either from crop dusters or from, you know, crashing planes into the Atlanta games. 

MATTHEWS:  Could you sue the administration?  Have you given thought to doing that?

BREITWEISER:  You know, Chris, I really think that more than anything, we need to have an investigation to get answers.  Our rights to hold anyone accountable, unfortunately, were taken us from in the airline bailout bill. 

And really, the only way we are going to get answers as to knowing that these problems have been fixed is through this commission.  Because we don‘t have the benefit of the judiciary system, we are not permitted to have discovery, cross-examination.  And to me, that‘s a very dangerous precedent.  That‘s a whole other issue, but sadly...

MATTHEWS:  I‘m sorry, Kristen.  Quickly, did you believe Richard Clarke?

BREITWEISER:  About what?

MATTHEWS:  Everything. 

BREITWEISER:  Listen, I found him to be very forthcoming, and I also thought it was very heartening that he apologized to the families.  He is the first person to do so. 

And I think, I would encourage everyone to follow his lead, to throw everything they know on the table, everything they did and say, “I worked my heart out.  Here‘s what I did.  Here‘s what I think I could have done better.” 

Please give me your input.  Let‘s have an honest, open debate and let‘s restore confidence in this nation. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

BREITWEISER:  I‘d like to see that. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Please keep coming back on the show, on HARDBALL. 

Kristen Breitweiser, thanks for your thoughts tonight. 

Up next, Clinton‘s former defense secretary, William Cohen‘s going to be here to talk about his testimony before the 9/11 commission.

And later, the Bush administration launches two more ads in the battle for the White House.  We‘ll talk about that money and what they‘re trying to sell with Tucker Eske (ph), one of their salesmen.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Former Secretary of Defense William Cohen testified before the 9/11 commission this week.  And earlier today, I asked him what he thought of National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice‘s refusal to testify before the commission.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  Well, I think that she is relying upon the doctrine of separation of powers.  She has apparently appeared before the commission on a number of occasions for many hours. 

And you know, frankly, the issue of whether it‘s under oath or not, I think, it‘s really academic.  I think any time you appear before a congressionally authorized committee investigating something as serious as this, you assume that your remarks will be taken as being under oath.  So I don‘t think that is the dividing or positive (ph) factor. 

I think that she‘s concerned that she not breach that separation of powers.  But frankly, from a public relations point of view, I think it might be better for the White House to say, let her testify since she‘s so capable and articulate and will offer her version of the facts to the American people. 

But it‘s a judgment call by the White House. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think she‘s afraid to be put on the chair and asked personal questions about the president‘s reaction to the news he got 9/11?  His own personal preparedness or lack thereof psychologically, his sort of overall manner that day?  Is she afraid of those questions?  Those real invasive questions?

COHEN:  I don‘t think she should be afraid of them.  I doubt if she is.  Because you have the secretary of state, his deputy there testifying yesterday.  The CIA director, George Tenet, and others. 

I don‘t think anyone should be afraid to express their opinions about the degree of intensity or seriousness with which the president of the United States or any of his cabinet member take an issue.  So I think that she could deal with those issues very directly. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think the president here should direct her to testify?  I mean, it‘s his call. 

COHEN:  Obviously, it‘s his call.  I think to the extent that he sees that the public is turning this into an issue adversely against them, he‘ll to have reconsider that. 

But it shouldn‘t be used as kind of a strong man or strong woman proposition.  Again, the commission should decide, is there anything that they have now or don‘t have now that they think would be important to put in front of the public with public testimony by Condi Rice?

If they do, if they think the compelling case for her to make that they need to have, then they should continue to insist upon it.  The president should act accordingly. 

But I believe they have much of the information that they need, but they are the only ones who can judge that. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at what Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, your successor, said about the military options to deal with al Qaeda that he had inherited. 

Let‘s take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  I think it‘s accurate to say -

·         General Myers, you may want to chime in here.  But I think it‘s accurate to say that there were military options, and I characterize it as options and not a comprehensive plan to deal with al Qaeda and countries that harbor al Qaeda. 

But options to react, response actions, military response options to deal with specific terrorist events. 

And I was briefed on them, as I indicated in my testimony.  And I suspect that Dr. Rice was briefed on them.  I can just say that I don‘t remember ever seeing in the first instance—I don‘t remember anyone seeing, anyone being briefed on military proposals to react to something where they were fully satisfied. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, what do you make of that?  Is that a fair knock?

COHEN:  Well, I‘m not sure it‘s a knock.  What Secretary Rumsfeld was saying is that the military had a number of options prepared to try and attack al Qaeda, should they be gathered together, as they were during that event in 1998, or whether they had really specific information against bin Laden himself. 

But there were never any plans that I was aware of that would have involved a massive invasion of Afghanistan and a military plan to topple the Taliban prior to 9/11. 

I don‘t think the military had those plans.  I don‘t believe that Secretary Rumsfeld had those plans in mind prior to 9/11 either. 

And so it was really an issue, did we have President Musharraf on our side at that time?  Or was he on the side of the Taliban, supporting the Taliban?  Did we have Uzbekistan and other countries, and the answer was we had no one. 

And so that was the reason why there was no proposed invasion or military attack plan against Afghanistan prior to 9/11, and I don‘t believe Secretary Rumsfeld had one leading up to that either. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at what Richard Clarke said about why the Bush administration decided not to retaliate for the attack on the USS Cole. 

Let‘s take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD CLARKE, FORMER COUNTERTERRORISM ADVISOR:  I suggested, beginning in January of 2001, that the Cole case was still out there.  And that by now, in January of 2001, CIA had finally gotten around to saying it was an al Qaeda attack. 

And that therefore there was an open issue which should be decided about whether or not the Bush administration should retaliate for the Cole attack.  Unfortunately, there was no interest, no acceptance of that proposition.  And I was told on a couple occasions, well, you know, that happened on the Clinton administration‘s watch. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of that, Mr. Secretary?

COHEN:  Well, it did happen on the Clinton administration‘s watch.  I was as deeply devastated by that as one can imagine. 

The question was, at the time, how to respond.  We didn‘t know for certain if it was al Qaeda.  I suspected it was al Qaeda. 

But the question then began, what do we attack?  And where?  Or do we simply start leveling compounds and village sites where we suspect al Qaeda members might be located, irrespective of whatever amount of human killing might be involved in terms of innocent women and children. 

So it was really an issue of how do we locate them?  What is the magnitude of the response?  And can we accomplish that with our current military capabilities?

MATTHWES:  What do you make of Bob Kerrey—former Senator Bob Kerrey‘s comments?  Actually, it‘s a critique of the Clinton administration.  No use of military power.  No reason to scare off al Qaeda, because they knew they could keep getting away with it, starting in ‘93 with the attack on the World Trade Center and then the African embassies and then the Cole. 

COHEN:  Well, it‘s not exactly accurate, because there were a number of operations undertaken led by the CIA and supported by the Defense Department.  Apprehending as many as 50 of the al Qaeda operatives, covert actions to apprehend and render them to justice. 

And so there were a number of covert actions taken.  In addition to that, we did bomb Afghanistan and also the plant in Sudan.  So we did take military action when we had what they call actionable intelligence at the time. 

Could we have done more?  Senator Kerrey suggested perhaps we could have put a small amount of Special Forces on the ground in Afghanistan.  That was an option.  But I want you to at least keep in mind, we‘ve got 13,500 soldiers in Afghanistan now hunting for bin Laden.  And we still haven‘t found him, and we still haven‘t got, quote, predictive military actionable intelligence. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much, former United States Secretary of Defense William Cohen. 

Up next, Bush campaign advisor Tucker Eske (ph) takes us through their latest ads just launched today.

And later, more from the Democratic unity dinner tonight, featuring former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Our election correspondent, David Shuster, has been covering the Democrats all day.  And he joins us live from their Unity Dinner downtown in Washington. 

David, What does it smell like down there?  Does it smell like victory or defeat? 

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC ELECTION CORRESPONDENT:  Well, Chris, actually, it smells like barbecue, which is what they‘re going to be feeding these people.  They are not going to have a very expensive dinner, I guess, to try to save some money. 

But, in any case, Chris, 2,000 people here at the National Building Museum, they‘re paying anywhere from $1,000 to $25,000 each to raise something like $11 million.  And, Chris, even though everyone keeps talking about a show of unity, that does not mean, as you know, that there is complete unity.  We spoke to a campaign manager for one of the losing Democratic candidates who said, look, we don‘t want to be here but we have to be here because the time has come to rally around John Kerry. 

But there‘s a lot of choreography that‘s gone into this evening, Chris.  You look at Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.  They have not been together at the same event for 10 years.  It took Richard Nixon‘s funeral to bring those two together.  Al Gore and Bill Clinton, they have not been together for several months.  And then, of course, today, we did see John Kerry and Howard Dean, the two archrivals during the campaign primaries, together in Washington, where they had a rally.

But, still, Chris, for those people who have been following this campaign, some of the nasty things that those two said about each other just six weeks ago is still fresh in everybody‘s minds. 

But, in any case, tonight, it is an effort to try to raise a lot of money for the Democratic Party, show the sort of unity and try to unify behind what is their collective anger at George W. Bush—Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  So, speaking of togetherness, David, in the best sense of that word, where the hell is Hillary tonight? 

SHUSTER:  Hillary, we are told, is going to be here. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, really? 

SHUSTER:  The indication is that she will make—she will make an appearance and that she is going to be doing everything she can.  She‘s been raising a lot of money for John Kerry.  Her campaign organization, her Senate campaign organization, has been volunteering to do fund-raisers at her house, which Democrats say is the most lucrative kind of fund-raising that the Democratic Party has right now. 

Whatever her motivation may be, clearly, the Democratic Party feels that she is something...

MATTHEWS:  OK, David, use your imagination.  Can you imagine—can you summon up a picture of Hillary standing next to John Kerry, endorsing him in any kind of public event? 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I can‘t come up with that picture in my head. 

SHUSTER:  No, and you‘re not going to see it tonight, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Has she done it, except on Japanese television?  When is she going to do an American television endorsement of the—does she really want this guy to win or to lose it, so she can win it next time?

SHUSTER:  Well, Chris, they‘re saying that she is going to do everything she can.  But you‘re not going to see that picture here tonight.  You may not see it in the near term future.  But Hillary Clinton‘s office says, look, that‘s not what is so important.  What is important is that she is using her tremendous fund-raising apparatus to help John Kerry get elected.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

SHUSTER:  And they say the pictures aren‘t that important. 

MATTHEWS:  That may be the argument. 

But let me tell you, when they were around and wanted to win votes, you couldn‘t get those two off the stage.  Hillary was in our face every night of our lives for eight years.  Even when Bush got inaugurated, they were still doing the Vaudeville act out at the airport.  And now you‘re telling me she‘s really for this guy, Kerry.  She doesn‘t want to give him the picture yet. 

SHUSTER:  Well, she doesn‘t want to give the picture, but she is more than willing to give him the money. 

But, again, Chris, the most important thing at least that you‘re hearing from people here is, look, it doesn‘t that Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter haven‘t been together.  It doesn‘t matter that Hillary Clinton hasn‘t stood up in front of the cameras and formally embraced John Kerry.  They say, that‘s not what this evening is about.  And it will be up to Hillary Rodham Clinton to decide how she best thinks that she can help advance John Kerry in the campaign. 

Remember, Chris, the Clintons are also very mindful of all the Democratic activists who are here who are looking for the very unity that they‘ve been talking about.  And a lot of people have been saying tonight, the Clintons have to come through. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, David Shuster, who is at the Unity rally. 

And today, the Bush-Cheney campaign released two new ads, TV ads, with a jobs and economy theme.  Let‘s look at the two ads.  They‘re both positive. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We‘re in changing times and the economy is changing.  We need new small business owners.  And that‘s why the policies I put forth help small businesses.  We‘ve got tax cuts in place that will help the economy grow. 

We‘ve also got plans to help people get the skills necessary to fill the new jobs of the 21st century.  I‘m optimistic about America because I believe in the people of America. 

I‘m George W. Bush.  And I approve of this message. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s interesting, Tucker.  Thank you for joining us tonight.

TUCKER ESKEW, BUSH-CHENEY CAMPAIGN ADVISER:  Nice to be here, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  You understand the purpose of these ads.  What‘s the message there? 

ESKEW:  The message is, the president has got a plan, that steady leadership applies to the economy, just as it does in the war on terror, and that he is deeply committed.  He cares about this country, its economic future. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s look at a negative ad.  Enough of that stuff.  Here‘s a negative one.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD) 

BUSH:  George W. Bush.  And I approve this message. 

NARRATOR:  John Kerry‘s economic record?  Troubling.  Kerry voted to increase taxes on Social Security benefits.  And he voted against giving small businesses tax credits to buy health care for employees.  Kerry even supported raising tax on gasoline, 50 cents a gallon.  Now John Kerry‘s plan will raise taxes by at least $900 billion his first 100 days in office.  And that‘s just his first 100 days. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  It‘s interesting that your ad, when do you a positive ad, that dreamy first one, which was very nice, you have the president say, I support this ad up front.  But when you do a dastardly attack on the opponent—I‘m sorry—you do it the other way, rather.

You have Bush at the end of the nice one, because he‘s part of that nice feeling at the end.  But when you want to stick the dagger in, you have him say it up front so you don‘t quite see him at the end.  Is that the strategy?

ESKEW:  Well, not much of a dagger there. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t it

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Put him at the front of negatives and at the end of positives? 

ESKEW:  No.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you just did.

ESKEW:  I‘m not sure that‘s consistent.  We may have done that this time.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I‘ll be watching to see if it is. 

(CROSSTALK)

ESKEW:  I don‘t know what that would really portend.  I think it

suggests the president is following the letter of the law in getting his

(CROSSTALK)  

MATTHEWS:  Except the letter he is using the letter to go one way for the positive and one way for the negative. 

ESKEW:  I don‘t know that it makes any difference.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Oh, it‘s smart.  Everybody watching knows it‘s smart. 

Let me ask you about Laura Bush, who everybody likes.  She‘s become almost the “Where‘s Waldo” in every one of these pictures.  There‘s always going to be a Laura somewhere in that picture, right? 

ESKEW:  I hope so.  She‘s wonderful.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You‘re open about that.  But she‘s not a policy maker.

ESKEW:  She ought to be.  She ought to be out there.  She represents something, tells people something about George W. Bush. 

MATTHEWS:  What?  What‘s the sales pitch?

ESKEW:  Truth, honest, steady man. 

MATTHEWS:  She is a character witness. 

(CROSSTALK)

ESKEW:  She is a character witness. 

And the president doesn‘t need a lot of that, but it is certainly good to show her off.  It is a plus for the campaign.  I think it reflects something about him, his life and his compassion. 

MATTHEWS:  What did you make—oh, there‘s Jimmy Carter, the former president.  Let me ask you, what did you think about the president‘s riff last night on the WMD issue, a long series of jokes in a sort of Burlesque looking for WMD all around the West Wing, all around the Oval Office.  Do you think that‘s a good joke? 

ESKEW:  Yes.  And I thought the room laughed.  It was mildly self-deprecating.  It is on people‘s minds.  The president showed a lot last night how compassionate he is toward the soldiers who fought in this war.  No one would really the president‘s seriousness on this topic. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Why don‘t we take a look at the president telling his joke last night?

Oh, I guess we‘re not going to see it right now. 

ESKEW:  OK.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, you say it‘s OK to tell jokes about—there he is. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  As you can tell from the look on Andy Card‘s face, we‘ve become a little concerned about the vice president lately.

(LAUGHTER)

BUSH:  Whenever you ask him a question, he replies, “Let‘s see what my

little friend says.”                

(LAUGHTER)

BUSH:  But we get along well.  Here I am saying, “Dick, if the Hunan

Palace doesn‘t get lunch here in four minutes, we‘re going out.”              

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I was hoping we would show the riff there. 

(CROSSTALK)

ESKEW:  A little bit of it.

MATTHEWS:  There‘s a riff of four or five jokes where he made fun of the fact he couldn‘t find weapons of mass destruction. 

Now, the reason I raise this is, we were just over at Walter Reed.  There is like almost more than 3,000 seriously injured guys, amputees, the people that fought that war thinking they were protecting this country from weapons of mass destruction.  They weren‘t because the guy didn‘t have any weapons of mass destruction.

(CROSSTALK)

ESKEW:  They did.

MATTHEWS:  They did what?  They protected us from weapons of mass destruction?

(CROSSTALK)

ESKEW:  They protected us from Saddam Hussein.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But not weapons of mass destruction, which was the case made to them and their families.

ESKEW:  It was a case made.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  A case?

ESKEW:  It was a case.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What was the other case made before the war?

ESKEW:  Oh, come on, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Before the war.

ESKEW:  Before the war.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  To Europe, to the world.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  When we went to U.N., the case was they, had weapons of mass destruction. 

ESKEW:  That was a central part of the case.  It was at the forefront of the case. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, it‘s not true.

ESKEW:  And it remains at the forefront of the case. 

MATTHEWS:  It does?  How? 

ESKEW:  Of course it does.

MATTHEWS:  How does it still become an issue for the war? 

ESKEW:  Because I think the president has made clear that we disarmed

a dictator, an evil man who had the capacity

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Without the weapons, he was just evil.  But he wasn‘t a threat to us, was he? 

(CROSSTALK)

ESKEW:  He was the same sort of threat to George W. Bush that John Kerry acknowledged that he was over and over and over again. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re shifting here. 

ESKEW:  No, I‘m not.  I think the case is that the American—bipartisan—on a bipartisan basis, the American leadership in this country understood the man. 

MATTHEWS:  Nice try. 

ESKEW:  Come on, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  When you come up with the evidence, you‘ll have the case made for the war.  The case for the war was, they were dangerous to us because they might use nuclear.  They might use nuclear.  They might use biological or chemical against us.  We have a Department of Defense, not offense or war.  It‘s called the Department of Defense. 

ESKEW:  I think there will be a debate in this campaign about whether or not we‘ll be on offense.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  If you can‘t show that we went to war to defend this country, you got a problem on your hands. 

ESKEW:  I can say the president will make the case that we went on offense, not only against terrorists in Afghanistan, but against...

MATTHEWS:  Oh, offense.  So are we going to call it the Department of Offense now or defense? 

(CROSSTALK)

ESKEW:  Well, we‘re going to fight it as a war.  John Kerry has said he wants to fight it as a law enforcement action. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So you hold to the argument as a spokesman for the president that the president of the United States was right last night to make fun of the issue of why he went to war?

ESKEW:  Listen, you can put it in that context, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Four jokes. 

ESKEW:  The president—come on.  The president has talked about WMD over and over and over again, since David Kay reported and before. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Would you have him tell those jokes as he tours the hospitals? 

(CROSSTALK)

ESKEW:  He tours the hospitals an awful lot.  He doesn‘t need a lesson in compassion toward the American soldiers, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  No, it‘s just he has a—maybe there‘s a question here of taste. 

ESKEW:  I think the president has very good taste. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You felt the jokes were right?

ESKEW:  That‘s self-deprecation, Chris.  I think you misinterpret it.

MATTHEWS:  So you think the guys who got hurt and killed in this war thought it was funny?

ESKEW:  I wouldn‘t say that and I don‘t think you really mean that. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I just don‘t think it was funny.  I was there last night. 

I didn‘t think it was funny. 

Anyway, thank you, Tucker.  It‘s not your fault.  You didn‘t write those jokes, did you? 

ESKEW:  No. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, good.  I‘m glad you didn‘t take responsibility for them, anyway. 

Coming up, more on the Democrats and their newfound unity with Howard Fineman and “TIME” magazine‘s Karen Tumulty.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

ANNOUNCER:  You‘re watching HARDBALL.  Now it‘s time for today‘s Marriott map facts.  Which state was the first to join the original 13? 

Stay tuned for the answer.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, it‘s a politically star-studded party with Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and John Kerry.  More of the Democrats‘ Unity Dinner when HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER:  In today‘s Marriott map facts, we asked you, which state was the first to join the original 13?  Give up.  The answer is Vermont, which entered the union in 1791. 

Now back to HARDBALL with Chris Matthews. 

MATTHEWS:  I thought Delaware was the first state.  There are the presidents all walking out on the stage, Jimmy Carter, behind him, Bill Clinton.  Boy, it‘s an unusual picture here.  I guess it is not exactly Mount Rushmore, but it‘s all the Democrats have this time.

Here they come.  There‘s John Kerry looking great, dark hair.  I love it when they point at people. 

We‘re sitting here with Howard Fineman and Karen Tumulty of “TIME” magazine.  Howard is of course with “Newsweek” and with us.

You know, it‘s amazing.  What is this where they all do this?  They walk out.  Karen, they do this all the time.  They go—and they go like this.  And go—like, what is that about?  They see like—they see some old buddy in the audience?  What is that?

HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT:  It is a way to establish intimacy.  Hey, I see you.  We‘ve known each other forever.  You‘re not just here as a contributor.  You did not just give $1,000 to get here.  We grew up together.  We went to school together. 

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m stunned by the three—the three pictured. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Jimmy Carter can‘t stand Bill Clinton.  They‘re doing a little—oh, talk about disliking each other. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Anybody—Karen, you‘ve got a moment here.  Does anybody on that stage like anybody else? 

(LAUGHTER)

KAREN TUMULTY, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, “TIME”:  That‘s a very good question. 

MATTHEWS:  Like anyone else?  Try to do a permutation here.  Howard, you‘re good at this.

FINEMAN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Permutations.  Oh, Terry McAuliffe.  Well, he likes Bill Clinton.  Those two like each other.  Any president like any other president or vice president? 

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  Clinton and Carter don‘t particularly like each other. 

MATTHEWS:  Howard Dean and John Kerry are not too close. 

FINEMAN:  Yes. 

TUMULTY:  I wonder how things are between Gore and Dean these days. 

FINEMAN:  Now Gore—now, Al Gore was not originally supposed to be in the original shot. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

FINEMAN:  But he managed to do a pretty good job of getting in there as the almost president. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Almost.

(LAUGHTER)

FINEMAN:  As the guy who got more...

MATTHEWS:  There‘s Dick Gephardt.

FINEMAN:  ... popular votes.  So he was pretty instantly in the instant Mount Rushmore up there.  This is a symbol...

MATTHEWS:  Is that Al Sharpton there?  Yes, it is Al Sharpton.

FINEMAN:  There you go.

(CROSSTALK)

TUMULTY:  I don‘t know.  They all look like flight attendants for the same airline. 

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  Now, there is Bill Clinton with John Edwards, which is significant only because Edwards keeps claiming that Clinton is his big supporter in the vice presidential hunt.

MATTHEWS:  Is that Charlie Rangel?  Who is the guy on the left?  I just thought it was an odd picture.

TUMULTY:  That was Sharpton, wasn‘t it?

MATTHEWS:  Was that Sharpton?

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  I think that was Al Sharpton. 

MATTHEWS:  Was it really?

TUMULTY:  And somebody didn‘t give them memo that this was not black tie.  So...

MATTHEWS:  Maybe that‘s the suit he has got clean this week. 

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  That‘s an extraordinary picture for the Democrats, though, and it is a hopeful picture. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  It looks like a G8 meeting. 

FINEMAN:  I was talking to people all day today about this thing.  They‘re really pumped about it.  It is the biggest fund-raiser the Democrats have ever had.  They‘re still about $120 million behind Bush-Cheney. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But they all are guys who are just used to living out of their suitcases, right, like Sharpton and the rest of them?  They‘re running around the country, living off cell phones.  They don‘t really live in a community. 

And now this is sort of like a letdown, isn‘t it, for all these guys.  They were having a whole lot more fun a month ago, every one of these guys, right?

FINEMAN:  Well, they‘re the center of their own entourage.  Now they‘re just part of a big group scene, which Kerry is really about to take control over. 

(CROSSTALK)

TUMULTY:  Yes, not Kerry.  He is having more fun now. 

MATTHEWS:  What about Gore and Clinton?  That‘s a recent injury to

both.  I mean, Gore jumps into the campaign for—there we go.  Watch

this.  We‘re watching this right now.  There‘s Gore

(CROSSTALK)  

FINEMAN:  See, now, that was very carefully choreographed. 

MATTHEWS:  That was the quickest one.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  How fast did Gore get past Clinton there? 

TUMULTY:  I didn‘t see any eye contact there. 

MATTHEWS:  How fast?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  He is about to give him a high-five. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  No response to that high-five.

FINEMAN:  You know, what the thought balloons are there is, Gore is thinking, if it hadn‘t been for that guy, I would have won this election.  And Clinton with a thought balloon is thinking, you dummy.  How could you have blown that election that I set up for you? 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, God, and this sort of practiced hand clapping.  Most people don‘t clap like that.  They clap like this. 

FINEMAN:  That‘s the Democratic clap.  Don‘t you agree, Karen?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... an official clap. 

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  Democrats stand up on the stage and clap.

MATTHEWS:  It is official clapping. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And then they really want to go like this up on top of their heads when they‘re really enthusiastic. 

TUMULTY:  Well, you remember, though, when Al Gore was running, somebody actually had to coach him on clapping. 

MATTHEWS:  Really? 

TUMULTY:  That is a true story.  Yes. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  How was he doing it wrong?

FINEMAN:  Like Herman Munster.  It was...

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t think he was doing the back beat handshake, do you? 

I think he was probably doing the front beat.

Anyway, let me ask you about the Democrats, in all seriousness.  We‘re watching the pictures there, Karen Tumulty.  The big question, is this party united as much as it was in anger against Bush?  Is it truly united?  I looked at new numbers that show turnout is going to be great on the Democratic side this time.  They think this election, according to the Pew Foundation today, is a really important election. 

TUMULTY:  Absolutely.  I think this is primarily it is a feeling that they really very badly want to beat Bush.  And they feel like Kerry—they‘re happy with their nominees, because they do think that, of everybody who was running, Kerry gives them the best shot at doing that. 

MATTHEWS:  And do they want it, like really, really, really want to win and they‘re willing to put up their anger with each other? 

TUMULTY:  Absolutely, because this is—this is the first election I can remember in a long time where nobody is not—is going to say there‘s not a dime‘s worth of difference. 

MATTHEWS:  Then there‘s no chance of a blowout, Howard.  If it is true the Democratic Party is united as much as it seems to be right now, based on polling, they can‘t get blown away.  They‘re going to get at least 45 percent, 46 percent of vote, right, no matter what happens?

FINEMAN:  I think it is going to be close.  Every poll shows that. 

Our most recent poll does, the “TIME” poll.  Stan Greenberg the Democratic

pollster‘s new poll shows that solid bloc

(CROSSTALK) 

MATTHEWS:  No Mondale, no McGovern? 

FINEMAN:  No, no, it‘s not going to be that.

The other thing that struck me about this, although Kerry will get his moment later to speak alone, it is a group effort.  Kerry is almost, not quite, but almost incidental to his own campaign. 

MATTHEWS:  I agree completely.

FINEMAN:  It is not about him.  It is about the Democratic Party vs.

George Bush. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I think he is the nose cone—that‘s about it—of this effort. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  He just happens to be up there.

FINEMAN:  He just happens to be there in the group. 

MATTHEWS:  You know what he is?  He‘s the payload. 

Anyway, more with “TIME”‘s Karen Tumulty and our own Howard Fineman when we come back.

You‘re watching HARDBALL watch the Democrats get together on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with more with Karen Tumulty and Howard Fineman.

We are watching that handshake again.  Wasn‘t that the shortest hello/goodbye you ever saw in your life? 

Howard. 

(LAUGHTER)

FINEMAN:  I love watching it.  You can‘t watch it enough because of all of the angst and tension there really between those guys despite the smiles. 

MATTHEWS:  Did you see John Kerry‘s right hand reach around and sort of grab the back, the lower back of Al Gore there a minute ago?  Was that to say, you can still do some work for me? 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  What do you think, Karen?  There‘s still some—maybe there‘s a few electoral votes in you, buddy. 

TUMULTY:  Absolutely.  I guess they‘re willing to put that endorsement behind them.  Howard Dean is down there at the end.  You notice he is not in the picture. 

MATTHEWS:  I think they‘ve all developed a brilliant nervous laugh. 

That‘s my theory.

Let me ask you, Howard, about this campaign.  It seem to me the Republicans are coming back with great ads.  They‘re using to their advantage, smart ads, Mark McKinnon, Democratic ad man, doing Republican ads.  And they‘re good. 

FINEMAN:  Yes, they‘re good and they‘re tough and they‘ve had an effect. 

Stan Greenberg, who is a Democratic pollster and who worked for Bill

Clinton

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And a real liberal.

FINEMAN:  And a real liberal.

Has a poll out showing that there‘s been a swing of eight to 10 points. 

MATTHEWS:  Back to the R‘s.

FINEMAN:  Back to the R‘s as a result of the ads. 

I think Bush has probably spent $20 million, $30 million.  He has got a lot of value for his money.  And it‘s so early and there are so many swings back and forth.  And the Democrats have gotten untold billions of free publicity out of Richard Clarke in the last 48 hours.

MATTHEWS:  Oh, yes, I think it‘s a good week for the Dems, don‘t you?

FINEMAN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  But I think the Republican had a reservoir of support. 

They had sort of their cavalry on the hill.  And the cavalry on the hill waiting to attack were those people who were giving Bush a hard time.  They‘re going to vote for him, but they‘re going to make it a little difficult.  I don‘t really like what he did on marriage or I don‘t really like what he did on immigration, but in the end I‘m going to vote for him, right?

TUMULTY:  Oh, exactly. 

And you know what they‘re trying to do here, too, is—the poll that I find interesting is the one that came out about a week ago that suggests that two-thirds of the public is paying as close attention to the election now as they were in October of 2000.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So turnout is coming. 

TUMULTY:  Well, both sides

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I would say 120 million this year.  It‘s something really big, right?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Huge turnout.

FINEMAN:  I think, in terms of the fundamental issue, which is how to win the war on terror, it is the most profound issue in any presidential election in our memory.  It‘s a big deal. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

FINEMAN:  And I think people understand that.  I think they understand that.

MATTHEWS:  I wonder if it is going to come down to a really clear-cut transparent question and whether the Democrats really want—you know what the question is going to be.  Were we right to go to Iraq?  If we were right, this president is a leader.  You can say all you want about him, but he‘s a leader.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  If we were wrong to go, he was wrong and should be defeated.  Are the Democrats willing to stake everything on that decision? 

FINEMAN:  Well, I think they don‘t feel they quite have to, because I think they have won—they believe they have won some of the economic argument.  What‘s interesting to me is the extent to which the Bush people are now focusing on shoring up their standing on economics and attacking Kerry on that.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Do you think there‘s a lot of people in the country who are Democrats who want Bush to leave, and every time the stock market report comes out at night, they know whether to cheer the bad news or cheer the bad news, because if it‘s bad news, they have got a better shot at knocking Bush off, but every time they cheer then, they know they‘re losing money? 

TUMULTY:  Well, absolutely, although most of these Democrats are the ones who have much smaller amounts in the stock market. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

TUMULTY:  So I don‘t think they‘re quite so conflicted over this. 

MATTHEWS:  But how about the economy?  If this continues to be a jobless recovery from now to the end of the summer, what does the president say? 

His ads are beautiful.  We saw another tonight earlier in the program, the economy ad, the guy going to work, office work, men and women, minorities. 

FINEMAN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Is that going to work if the economy doesn‘t produce jobs? 

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  We‘re always in search, Karen and I, for the perfect swing voters.  I was in the middle of Ohio the other week.  That ad is not going to win any votes in Stark County, Ohio. 

MATTHEWS:  Because they‘re there.

FINEMAN:  Where they‘re cutting jobs at the Hoover plant and everybody is worried to death about lost jobs there.  The manufacturing jobs are a symbol for all the people in the state of Ohio.  That ad alone is not going to win Ohio.  What will win Ohio for George Bush are cultural issues and war presidency, which is why it‘s about the war, stupid, I think in this election.

MATTHEWS:  So you show dueling ads in Ohio.  The Democrats show the jobless situation, which they don‘t really need, because they know it.  The Republicans show the president doing his deal on September 14 at the World Trade Center on the rubble and attacks on gay marriage. 

TUMULTY:  Yes, Democrats can not on just riding the economy to the White House.  They tried the economic issues in 2002 and lost a whole lot. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, can they get close with that? 

TUMULTY:  It can help them, but they have got to have the security issue, too.  It‘s just not going to be enough.

FINEMAN:  At least they can‘t get it for themselves, but they got to take it away or neutralize it. 

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  Which is what they‘re trying to do now.

MATTHEWS:  What about if John Kerry sits on the election eve, the night before the election, with someone like the woman who was on the program tonight, Kristen Breitweiser, very attractive woman, extremely attractive woman, very appealing, extremely articulate and has a case to make?

Is the hidden ace for the Democrats, the survivors, the widows, rather, of 9/11 and them saying, this president did not protect our people? 

FINEMAN:  I think you‘re going to have dueling widows. 

MATTHEWS:  Dueling widows.

TUMULTY:  Exactly. 

FINEMAN:  Come October.

MATTHEWS:  Dueling widows.  God, that‘s a revolting development. 

Anyway, thank you very much, speaking of “The Life of Riley,” Karen Tumulty and Howard Fineman.

Join us again tomorrow night at 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  We‘ll have our special report—and this is serious business—“America‘s Wounded Son and Daughters.”  I spent a day this week with a number of brave men and women who are recuperating at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here in Washington.  Wait until you catch these people.  They are great people up against tough odds.  They got hurt bad in Iraq.

END   

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