updated 3/30/2004 1:22:18 AM ET 2004-03-30T06:22:18

Guests: David Dreier, Ron Suskind, Roger Cressey, Ernest Strada, Lee Hamilton

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  The Condi Rice-Richard Clarke battle rages on, as the president‘s polls on the war on terrorism take a hit.  Will the Clarke book affect the presidential election?  Tonight, the September 11 investigation from the inside out. 

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews. 

Richard Clarke was scheduled for tonight.  He has canceled and will join us on Wednesday.  Clarke and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice continued to battle it out on the nation‘s airwaves this weekend, and top Republicans on the 9/11 Commission called for Rice to testify publicly about claims the Bush administration dragged its feet before 9/11. 

Here‘s what Rice said on “60 Minutes.” 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “60 MINUTES”)  

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER:  Nothing would be better from my point of view than to be able to testify.  I would really like to do that.  But there‘s an important principle involved here.  It is a long-standing principle that sitting national security advisers do not testify before the Congress. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Lee Hamilton is the vice chair of the 9/11 Commission. 

He‘s a former Democratic congressman from Indiana. 

Mr. Hamilton, thanks for joining us tonight.

What do you make of the claim of executive privilege in this regard? 

Is the president right or is he wrong? 

LEE HAMILTON, VICE-CHAIRMAN, 9/11 COMMISSION:  I think the long-standing custom—I‘ll avoid the use of the word precedent—has been that national security advisers do not testify in public under oath before the Congress or in any other setting.  There‘s a tension here. 

The 9/11 Commission is charged with the responsibility of getting a full and complete understanding of the events leading to 9/11.  We‘ve had very good cooperation from Dr. Rice in private session.  We can find out the information the commission needs probably privately.  We do think that the public would have a better understanding of events if she testified publicly, and that‘s what we‘ve asked her to do. 

MATTHEWS:  Has she answered every question forthrightly as you‘ve determined in the hours of testimony privately? 

HAMILTON:  We‘ve had I think over four hours of not testimony—she was not under oath—but in conversation with her.  The answer to your question is, yes, she‘s been very forthcoming.  She‘s been willing to give us the time we need.  She said that she‘d be delighted to talk with us further.  And so far as I know, every answer has been responsive to our requests. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think it‘s possible—you‘ve been in politics, sir, for many years before this assignment—do you think it‘s possible that what she‘s shielding is not simply a principle, but what she‘s aware of is the fact that once the committee gets her under the lights, under oath, the questions will come to mind about her way of advising the president, the president‘s abilities at certain times and certain moments, the president‘s emotional reactions at certain times, his ability to cope with the crisis, that those kinds of very intimate details will be demanded of her? 

HAMILTON:  I take her at her word.  She says she wants to testify.  I believe she does.  She says the White House will not let her because of the executive privilege.  We‘ve got a problem here. 

The important thing at the moment is to notice that both the commission and the White House is trying to find a way forward.  I‘ve been discussing today with the White House and with the chairman of the commission ways by which we could move forward and satisfy both the White House and the commission.  I‘m not prepared to discuss those ways now in detail.  They haven‘t been agreed upon. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

HAMILTON:  But the point is that the discussions are going forward and I‘m hopeful they‘ll have a fruitful result. 

MATTHEWS:  Is there a diplomatic solution here? 

HAMILTON:  Yes, I think there probably is a solution to the problem which will satisfy both the commission and the White House.  I can‘t be sure of that at the moment, but I would be more optimistic than pessimistic that we can find a way. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about Richard Clarke‘s testimony.  I think it went in two directions, one, his charge that the administration wasn‘t focused on al Qaeda before 9/11 and therefore didn‘t do the job of defense it should have, and subsequent to 9/11, it was so fixated ideologically on going to war with Iraq, it hasn‘t subsequently focused enough on chasing down al Qaeda.  Which of those two impressed you the most or the least, however you want to phrase it? 

HAMILTON:  I think you state it accurately.  Mr. Clarke made those two accusations, or expressed those concerns about the president‘s policies. 

The one accusation, which in effect is, we fought the wrong war, we went into Iraq instead of going after the remnants of Taliban and Afghanistan and thereby diminished that effort, that‘s not a concern to this commission.  It‘s a very important foreign policy question.  It‘s going to be debated a lot in the days ahead, but it is not at least in my view in the mandate of the commission. 

The other question, did President Bush give sufficient priority to counterterrorism efforts, very much is in our mandate.  We will be looking at that.  We are looking at it and we will reach a conclusion about it as a commission. 

MATTHEWS:  Did Mr. Clarke strike you as a government servant, as sort of a super great—and you‘ve gotten to know many of them over the years in testimony and dealing with government agencies—did he strike you as a public servant pure and simple a or as a special pleader politically? 

HAMILTON:  I think Mr. Clarke was a serious witness.  I may be a little biased here.  I‘ve known him for I think at least two decades, maybe more.  He‘s been a master of the bureaucracy.  He‘s always been identified as very aggressive in his recommendations with regard to terrorism in both the Clinton and the Bush administrations. 

I think he knows how to pull the levers of power in the bureaucracy.  I don‘t make a final judgment about his credibility.  I shouldn‘t do that at this point in time, but I do think that the White House needs to respond on the merits to the charges he has made.  They are serious and he is serious. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of the White House maneuver—I don‘t want to characterize it  -- but the White House move to try to find some discrepancy between what he told your commission and what he said under oath before, as basically as a paid spokesman for the administration in the past in 2002? 

HAMILTON:  We need to know those things.  It‘s important for us to know what Dick Clarke said when he was employed by Clinton, when he was employed by Bush, what he‘s saying now, and if there are differences, we want to know them.  We‘re going through the record now very carefully. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you a tough question.  Are you satisfied with the president‘s participation generally in the commission or would you like to have him sitting before you as well?

HAMILTON:  We‘ve asked for the president to come before the Ten Commissioners.  He said:  I‘ll come before Governor Kean and myself, who is the chairman just vice chairman.  We‘re still discussing that with the White House. 

Overall, the White House I think has been cooperative.  They have given us access to information we have requested by and large.  They‘ve given us access to the people we want to see, not always as quickly as we would like to see it, not always under the conditions we would like to see it, but by and large, it‘s been a cooperative relationship. 

MATTHEWS:  Why do you think he singled out you and the chair, Governor Kean, as the only people he will speak to?  It smacks—I hate to be sarcastic, but it sounds like the old Judge Stennis, where Richard Nixon wouldn‘t released the tapes, but he would he let Senator Stennis of Mississippi listen to them, one member of the Senate.  Why would he make that dichotomy between a general discussion and just with the leadership? 

HAMILTON:  That‘s a question you‘ll have to put to the White House. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you—last point, a detail here that is important.  Are you happy with the access you‘ve gotten to the presidential daily briefings, with particular attention to the August briefing he received about a possible hijacking attempt by al Qaeda before 9/11, when he got that word ahead of time? 

HAMILTON:  Well, my personal view is that very famous memorandum, which has been largely discussed in the press, ought to be made public.  There‘s not that much there that has not already been in the press.  In general, we have had a limited access to the presidential daily briefings, not the complete PDBs, as they are called, to all commissioners. 

MATTHEWS:  Would you like that? 

HAMILTON:  It has been satisfactory.  It will permit us to go forward and fulfill our mandate.  Here again, we would like it if all the PDBs had been shown to all of the commissioners. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

HAMILTON:  We had to negotiate that out. 

MATTHEWS:  Were you impressed by the testimony of Mr. Clarke with respect to the fact that he had envisioned the possibility of airplanes used as missiles to attack the Atlanta Olympics in the years before 9/11 in a way that Condi Rice had sort of denied the conception of?  She said, we couldn‘t imagine them using airplanes as missiles.  In fact, he had in fact advanced that notion and in fact had begun to study the possibilities.

HAMILTON:  Well, that‘s an important point of difference and I‘m not going to make a judgment about it now. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Well, thank you for the Mike Mansfield-type answer there.  But thank you. It‘s a great privilege to talk to you, Lee Hamilton, a great man and ranking—or, actually, he‘s vice chair of the commission on 9/11. 

Coming up, the father of a 9/11 victim tells us why he thinks Richard Clarke is profiteering with his criticism of the Bush administration. 

Later, Richard Clarke‘s White House deputy, Roger Cressey—what an insider he is.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

In an open letter attacking Richard Clarke in yesterday‘s “New York Post,” some family members of 9/11 victims accused Richard Clarke of using his testimony to help sell his book. 

The letter reads—quote—“We find Mr. Clarke‘s actions all the more offensive, especially considering the fact that there was always a high possibility that the 9/11 Commission could be used for political gain, especially now, with the presidential election less than eight months away.  Surely, Mr. Clarke knew this.  Yet he decided to risk the actual and perceived impartiality of this important process to maximize book sales. 

We believe it inappropriate for Mr. Clarke to profit from and politicize

9/11, and further divide America, by his testimony before the 9/11

Commission.” “

Mayor Ernest Strada of Westbury, New York, signed his name to this letter.  His son, Thomas, worked for Cantor Fitzgerald and died in North Tower. 

Mr. Mayor, thank you very much for joining us tonight. 

Let me ask you about this letter.

How did it develop, as you now understand? 

ERNEST STRADA, MAYOR OF WESTBURY, NEW YORK:  Well the family of Michael Boyle lived in my village.  And in the past, I know that they were signatories to a letter.  I had expressed my desire to participate in any way that I could when it came to the incident that occurred on 9/11.

And I was advised that the letter was being drafted and I knew what the content of the letter was.  I agreed 100 percent, especially after having watching the testimony given by Mr. Clarke.  And so my family signed on. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, how did you—did they e-mail it to you?  How did you get access to the text of the letter before signing? 

STRADA:  It was faxed to me and I read the text and I was comfortable with what it said.  As a matter of fact, I wish I had written such a letter. 

MATTHEWS:  Who sent it to you? 

STRADA:  It was sent by the family of the Boyles. 

MATTHEWS:  They were the ones that originated that? 

STRADA:  That‘s correct. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the book that concerns you.  And I can understand your concern.  Richard Clarke‘s book, what in the book didn‘t you like? 

STRADA:  To be perfectly honest, Chris, I didn‘t read the book, and I want to be perfectly candid with you.  I‘m familiar with your show.  You have a very quick pace to your show.  You‘re quick-footed.  I hope to keep up with you. 

I listened to the exchange between you and the congressman and your other guests.  And it‘s interesting that this has taken the twist that it‘s taken.  As a parent of someone who‘s lost a son and is a surviving family member, like many, many other families members in this nation, I don‘t think that what‘s happening today is appropriate, OK? 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you about an earlier period in time where there was—I mean, obviously, I can‘t possible understand.  I have kids.  I have a couple boys and a girl.  And I don‘t want to think about what it‘s like to be what you‘ve been through, OK?  So I‘ll admit that.  I don‘t want to think about it.  I don‘t want to use my imagination.

So let‘s step apart from this and look at history.  You‘re in politics. 

STRADA:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about World War II, just as a complete different situation, but it has one great common fact.  We were attacked at Pearl Harbor. 

STRADA:  That‘s correct. 

MATTHEWS:  A lot of people to this day on the right think Roosevelt knew about it.  They think, well, he knew it and he wanted to get us into war against the Nazis and this is the only way he could have done it, OK?  I know a lot of people ho think like that. 

But there was a real effort at the time to try to reduce the number of people who would think like that by having an investigation as to why we didn‘t catch them.  I personally can‘t figure how you couldn‘t know the entire Japanese Navy was out of sight, OK?  I would still like to know how our Navy didn‘t know that they were missing, the entire Japanese Navy.

So these kinds of questions, do you think generally these kinds of questions should be asked by the United States government in some sort of formal way? 

STRADA:  I don‘t know that I have so much trouble with the questions. 

I don‘t know that I have so much trouble with

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Like, how did we get hit by four different airplane guys with five or six guys on each plane and nobody knew about it?  Everybody kept the secret.  There were guys taking pilot training down in the South who—there was a guy who shows up in Minnesota who wants to fly a 747.  He‘s never flown a Piper Cub and nobody reports it.

And then you find out that Tenet that morning at breakfast said, I hope this guy isn‘t the guy who was trying to get pilot training.  They had it on their minds.  They didn‘t execute.  Doesn‘t that bother you? 

STRADA:  No, it doesn‘t bother me, no.  And it doesn‘t bother me at all.  You know why, Chris? 

MATTHEWS:  Why?

STRADA:  Because anybody can be a Monday-morning quarterback.  You‘re a sports fan.  The easiest thing in the world is to say they should have passed instead of running, should have punted instead of trying to steal. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

STRADA:  I listened to the testimony.  I listened to every word spoken by Mr. Clarke.  I didn‘t think that the melodrama of his apology or his wish to seek forgiveness, the statement that they failed us, I didn‘t think that that was appropriate at all. 

MATTHEWS:  Did you any that was baloney?  Did you any that was baloney, B.S.?

STRADA:  Yes, I think it was baloney, OK?   

MATTHEWS:  Right.  Well, actually, I did, too.

STRADA:  And I‘m being honest.  I‘m being honest.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I did too by the way.  I thought it was a grandstand.

STRADA:  I‘m not trying to be—I‘m not trying to be prejudiced.

MATTHEWS:  I agree.

STRADA:  I‘m not trying to be in any way anything but objective. 

MATTHEWS:  I understand.

STRADA:  OK?

He could have gone on, given his testimony.  He‘s smooth on his feet. 

He‘s a bureaucrat.  He has got a tremendous amount of experience.  I admire -- I admire him for what he‘s done over the years, but at this point in time, he appears to be a very, very disappointed bureaucrat. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think it‘s for money that he did this or out of anger? 

STRADA:  I don‘t know.  I don‘t know.  But I‘ll tell you this, Chris.  The one thing that you have to be careful of in life—and I‘ve been around a while—is that, if the veracity of someone is in any way questionable, so is his sincerity, as far as I‘m concerned. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

STRADA:  I trust the president 100 percent, implicitly.  I was with him on March 11 when he dedicated a memorial on Long Island.  Would you like to know what I told him?

MATTHEWS:  I‘d love to hear it.

STRADA:  OK.

I said:  Mr. President, you are on the right side of the issues. 

We‘re with you 100 percent.  Forget what the media says.  The country believes in you. 

He looked at me in my eyes and felt like he was my brother.  Now, that may sound melodramatic.

MATTHEWS:   But, you know, that is an emotion.  That‘s your emotion, sir.  That isn‘t—the fact is, the president—aren‘t you troubled by the fact that the cause that he gave us to go to war with Iraq which costs thousands of people having amputations and people being killed and all the other horrors was based upon a weapons of mass destruction claim that wasn‘t proven?  Doesn‘t that bother you? 

STRADA:  The weapons of mass destruction were there, as far as I‘m concerned.  We may not have found them.  We may never find them.  But...

MATTHEWS:  Well, how do you know they were there? 

STRADA:  But history proves what Saddam had done to his own people. 

(CROSSTALK)

STRADA:  We should have probably acted, Chris, when the Cole was attacked. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

STRADA:  OK?  There were many, many incidents in the period prior to this administration.  We had a prior administration and/or administrations who had policies.  Maybe the policies were right.  Maybe they were wrong.

But let me tell you.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

STRADA:  After September 11, what we‘ve done is the right thing. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I can only say that I appreciate your point of view. 

It may not be the same as mine on some of these points, because I want to find out the answer.  I want to know why we got misinformation about WMD, weapons of mass destruction.  I want to know why this thing isn‘t being paid for, this war, with the oil they promised to pay it with.

I want to know why the people in Iraq weren‘t glad to see us come in the long run.  I want to know why a lot of these things aren‘t turning out the way they were promised.

But, sir, I appreciate your loyalty. 

STRADA:  Chris, you have a right to a response to all those questions. 

But the commission is not dealing with that.  They‘re with something else.  And the most telling remark made by Mr. Clarke was when he responded, could this event have been prevented?  He said no. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s the key.  You‘re right. 

STRADA:  I mean, that‘s enough. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s a lot, sir. 

STRADA:  That‘s enough.

MATTHEWS:  I‘d love to meet you some time sir. 

STRADA:  I look forward to it.

MATTHEWS:  You seem like a good guy.

STRADA:  And I appreciate this opportunity to be with you. 

MATTHEWS:  And you‘re not a bureaucrat.  Thank you very much, Ernest Strada. 

Up next, Richard Clarke‘s White House deputy, Roger Cressey, he was there. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

NBC News analyst Roger Cressey served under Richard Clarke and is now Clarke‘s business partner.

It‘s amazing to see a guy like you, young fellow like you, and read about you in a book like some figure in our life, like the Lone Ranger.  You‘re all through the book.

Let me ask you this.  When you read the book—and you‘re under oath, OK?  You‘re under oath.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Did you find anything you didn‘t agree with it?  Anything that‘s not true.

ROGER CRESSEY, MSNBC COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST:  No.  Look, you can always the narrative that anybody writes in a book, but the facts, the substance, no.  For what I was there, it happened that way.

MATTHEWS:  Did the president intimidate people, yourself included, into coming up with an Iraq case for the war after 9/11?  “Come on, find an Iraq connection.  Come on, I‘m telling you, find an Iraq connection.”  Was it that kind of imperative command? 

CRESSEY:  Look, he was very forceful in that meeting.  He clearly wanted us to take a strong look at Iraq. 

MATTHEWS:  What was going on in your head when he started talking Iraq and you‘re talking Afghanistan?  All of a sudden, the president of the United States, the commander in chief, is talking about going “Wrong Way” Corrigan with you guys.  What were you thinking? 

CRESSEY:  Well, I was a little surprised, frankly.

It was without a doubt clear in our mind that that it was al Qaeda and that Afghanistan is where we should have focused.  But again he had the right, every right, to ask for us to look at all options. 

MATTHEWS:  When Lisa (ph), your colleague, said, Wolfowitz got to him, how could one person at the deputy level, deputy Pentagon chief, how could a guy like Paul, who is very charming guy, how could he turn the president from going after al Qaeda to switching over here at least 180 or 90 at least to go after Iraq? 

CRESSEY:  I think there was the belief on the part of a lot of people in the administration that al Qaeda could not have done this type of attack without state sponsorship and a lot of them did believe that Iraq was central to the state-sponsorship issue. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  All they had were box cutters and religious fanaticism and brains.  Why did there need to be a state sponsor of that? 

CRESSEY:  Training, coordination, sophistication of the plan.  For a number of people at the Pentagon and elsewhere, they said, look, they couldn‘t do this without Iraq...

MATTHEWS:  Because only soldiers could do that.

CRESSEY:  Exactly.   

MATTHEWS:  And paramilitary types, just a bunch of guys that got together, religious fanatics couldn‘t think that sharp.

CRESSEY:  Or at least people that were trained by a state intelligence service. 

MATTHEWS:  What did you make of that as an expert? 

(CROSSTALK)

CRESSEY:  It was flat wrong. 

MATTHEWS:  Huh?

CRESSEY:  It was flat wrong.  It was flat wrong.  Look, Saddam

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So it was an al Qaeda operation?  It was an al Qaeda operation. 

CRESSEY:  It was an al Qaeda operation, absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  To this day, do you understand—another claim in the book was that, by going after Iraq, fighting an old fight with Saddam Hussein for whatever geopolitical, ideological reasons—we can argue about motives forever here—we missed a chance to really crack down on al Qaeda.  We missed a chance to catch Mullah Omar, the head of the Taliban, to catch Zawahiri, to catch bin Laden.  Do you buy that argument? 

CRESSEY:  Yes, I do. 

Say Saddam—say bin Laden is captured or killed in the next couple of months.  Two years will have passed since we had the opportunity to destroy them at Tora Bora.  Now, in those intervening two years, how has al Qaeda evolved, metastasized to become much more of a threat?

MATTHEWS:  Please come back.  Now that you‘re on the payroll, we can make you come back. 

CRESSEY:  I‘m here, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  We can twist your arm.  Thank you, Roger Cressey, a man who was there at the creation.

Up next, Congressman David Dreier and Ron Suskind on the political fallout from the 9/11 hearings.  It‘s going to be very.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  This half-hour on HARDBALL, the political fallout of the 9/11 hearings.  Congressman David Dreier and author Ron Suskind will be here.  Plus, “Newsweek”‘s Howard Fineman with new poll numbers on President Bush‘s handling of the war on terror. 

But, first, the latest headlines right now. 

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

What do Richard Clarke‘s accusations and Condoleezza Rice‘s refusal to testify before the 9/11 Commission mean for the battle for the White House?

Congressman David Dreier is a Republican from California.  Ron Suskind is a Pulitzer Prize winner who wrote “The Price of Loyalty‘ about the role played by Paul O‘Neill in the Bush administration. 

Congressman, what do you make of this standoff?  It‘s all day on the news.  Condi Rice won‘t testify.  The president doesn‘t want her to on the grounds of executive privilege.  Is that a good thing for the White House? 

REP. DAVID DREIER ®, CALIFORNIA:  You know, politically, it‘s probably not a good thing, but what we have found is, time after time, Chris, this president has been willing to put protection of the presidency for future presidents, Democrats or Republicans, above day-to-day politics. 

Condi Rice has said she would like to testify.  She‘s made it very clear that what she would say has been what she has said in the television interviews and she was basically going through what she did in the four hours of meetings that she had with the commission.  But in looking back at the statement made that was by former security adviser, now Secretary of State Colin Powell, yesterday, they as advisers to the president believe in the separation of powers goal here, trying to maintain that, that it just shouldn‘t be done.

And, frankly, you know, Sandy Berger testified, but he‘s a former national security adviser.  And Condi Rice speculated in her interview on “60 Minutes” that had this happened during a time when Sandy Berger was national security adviser, he would not have testified.  So I think that, again, this is a real testimony to the fact that the president politically is maybe not doing the smartest thing, but constitutionally he‘s doing what he believes is right. 

MATTHEWS:  I think I agree with you. 

Ron? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  On this point, I think executive privilege is 50 years old.  Eisenhower created it back in 1954 during the Army-McCarthy hearings.  He said anybody that testifies before Congress is off my staff by that night.  Nobody advises me and talks to Congress. 

RON SUSKIND, AUTHOR, “THE PRICE OF LOYALTY”:  I think it‘s a situation that is special and a situation that has legal arguments on both sides.

I think, frankly, David is right.  Politically, this is suicide for the president.  This looks legalistic. 

(CROSSTALK)

DREIER:  Well, I didn‘t quite say suicide.  Ron, I didn‘t quite say suicide.  I just said maybe it wasn‘t the smartest thing. 

SUSKIND:  All right. 

DREIER:  No, the president has not committed political suicide, OK?

SUSKIND:  I think that the president has been self-protective throughout his administration, but it‘s mostly for political reasons.  He simply doesn‘t want open public dialogue based on facts.  That‘s the way this will be seen as well. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Oh, do you think—let me ask you both a question.  Congressman, do you think it‘s the president who is making this call out of principle?  And I think that would be a good principle even if there weren‘t a president, which is, I don‘t want somebody advising me being forced and cross—questioned by other people about what they advised me.  Maybe they were right.  Maybe they were wrong, but it‘s private information, isn‘t it?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t this private information for our president?

DREIER:  It is private information, but, of course, this is a question of principle.

And,again, President Bush is thinking of the executive branch and, again, Democratic and Republican presidents of the future who might be faced with a similar situation.  And so, you know, I think he‘s standing up for the separation of powers issue and, as you said, going back to this Eisenhower dictum. 

SUSKIND:  I think there‘s an important point to make here, Chris, is that this administration defines secrecy as a virtue, as opposed to a necessary evil.  That distinguishes them from Eisenhower‘s administration and most that have followed. 

I think, in that situation, the situation that‘s been created, the president is going to have a tough time defending this legal argument. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you both.  I

(CROSSTALK)

SUSKIND:  ... privacy, not secrecy. 

MATTHEWS:  I think the question of whether staff people who are privately appointed by the president, they don‘t go through congressional approval—they‘re there basically to serve the president and to give their best advice—why should they get into a dueling banjo situation with the other staffers as to who gave the best advice?  It‘s bad enough when it comes out in the books. 

(CROSSTALK) 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go—let me go to another point.  I want to ask you about Condi Rice.  Do you think she‘s taking personal heat here for the president?  Is she one of those classic Washington figures, like the insider, Richard Clarke, he fills a classic role, whether it‘s John Dean or it‘s David Stockman, an insider turning public information, or state‘s evidence, if you will?  Do you think Condi Rice is unfairly being hit here when it‘s a presidential decision? 

DREIER:  Look, Chris, she is the national security adviser.  She has demonstrated a willingness to meet with the families.  They‘re the ones who have raised a concern about the fact that she‘s not testifying publicly.  And this administration has worked together. 

I think that it is a great credit to this administration that we don‘t see constant leaks coming out, as has been the case in the past.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

DREIER:  And I believe that this administration has been successful and effective because those who advise president do so with an understanding that it‘s done privately.

And I think that‘s really played a big role in demonstrating the fact

that obviously, you know, Dick Clarke was not the most trustworthy guy

around and

(CROSSTALK) 

MATTHEWS:  Well, he wasn‘t politically loyal to the president.  That‘s for sure. 

DREIER:  Yes.  Well, you know, and I‘ll tell you something else.  I think back, Chris, to again, Speaker Hastert‘s recommendation that this commission complete its work before we get into the political season.

We saw yesterday my former colleague, the vice chairman of the commission, Lee Hamilton, make it very clear that the fact that Dick Clarke, who had this date scheduled to give this testimony, moved up by several weeks the release of his book clearly did create a greater opportunity for politicization of this and a lot of tension. 

MATTHEWS:  But wouldn‘t it have been stupid if Richard Clarke had come out with his book two weeks after the commission, so they couldn‘t have gone through the facts released in the book?  Wouldn‘t that have been stupid?

(CROSSTALK)

DREIER:  No.  No.  Let me tell you, Chris. 

I think what would have happened is I think Dick Clarke would have, as he did with his testimony, basically go through what was in hits book.  He had 2 ½ hours to provide testimony and I think he would have had a chance to do that. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you.  I‘m the president of the United States.  I‘m your friend and you‘re loyal to me.  My name is George W. Bush.  I‘m calling you up, Congressman Dreier, because you‘re so politically perspicacious.  And I‘m going to ask you, Congressman—you don‘t mind me calling you Dave—Dave, do you think I should have Condi testify.

What would you say to me if I were the president on the phone? 

DREIER:  I don‘t mind the president calling me that, but I do mind your calling me that, Chris. 

(LAUGHTER)

DREIER:  Let me say that...

MATTHEWS:  Well, consider me a stalker.  I still want the answer. 

DREIER:  Yes, yes, yes, yes. 

Let me just say that I mean, I think that it‘s very clear that the advice would be to stand by the Constitution, stand by this president.  We all acknowledge that September 11 was probably, if not the worst, one of the worst days in our nation‘s history.  But that does not mean that when you look at the challenge of dealing with national security, in many ways, it‘s even more important for there to be an opportunity for private discussions as we looked at September 11 and what happened to us both before and after than there would be otherwise. 

MATTHEWS:  The president suffered about an eight-point drop in his reputation with the public for handling national security over the last week or two.  It‘s obviously related to this discussion, which was spurred, ignited, whatever, by Richard Clarke‘s book and responded to by the White House in the person of Condi Rice.  Who‘s winning this duel, Congressman? 

DREIER:  Chris, it‘s what we saw all the time in every evening discussion.  These polls are going to go back and forth based on what happens at some point. 

It is clear that the release of Richard Clarke‘s book and the criticism that has been leveled by so many and, quite frankly, as Lee Hamilton said, what has become the politicization of this commission, has not been helpful to the president.  But I do think that, again, his standing for principle will, at the end of the day, inure to his benefit, because it‘s the right thing. 

SUSKIND:  Look, look...

MATTHEWS:  Ron.

SUSKIND:  The fact is, there‘s not a particularly strong constitutional issue here.

The big issue for this president is basic veracity.  He‘s having a credibility problem.  The people in the White House know it. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, the numbers are showing that, too.

SUSKIND:  And the numbers are showing it.  What we have are two streams coming together.  On one hand, you have got O‘Neill and a cast of others saying it was all about Iraq and Saddam from the very first NSC meeting.

MATTHEWS:  Including your book. 

SUSKIND:  My book is essentially where that started. 

MATTHEWS:  Which is Paul O‘Neill‘s account.

SUSKIND:  Where that started.

Now you‘ve got Richard Clarke saying in fact because we were so focused on Iraq, we were not focusing on the serious threat that al Qaeda posed.  This is an issue that goes very—right to the heart of the president‘s support.  He needs to come forward in an unmanaged way and to talk about it to the American people. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s a different question than Condi Rice testifying or executive privilege. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Congressman, I want to ask you

(CROSSTALK)

SUSKIND:  He is the most managed president of modern times. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, I can‘t handle that, but I can handle the debate over policy that‘s been emerging here. 

Congressman Dreier, I want you to come back and talk about the policy question here, because it seems to me, it‘s not a question of who was watching out for the country.  It‘s a question of were we setting the right policy.  Did we have the right policy apparatus to go after al Qaeda before 9/11?  Did we focus—have we focused sufficiently on al Qaeda since 9/11 to be meritorious? 

We‘ll be right back with Congressman David Dreier and Ron Suskind. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

ANNOUNCER:  Follow all the action in the battle for the White House.  Just sign up for the best political briefing around.  Log on to our newly redesigned Web site at HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, President Bush‘s poll numbers on the terror war take a dip.  “Newsweek”‘s Howard Fineman will be here—coming up on HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Congressman David Dreier and Ron Suskind. 

I was going to talk to you, Congressman.  A bigger picture has come into my brain here.  I was talking last night with a pollster who said to me that, among churchgoing people—this is of all religions, all economic groups—that the Democrats are losing to this president by 27 percent, that among people who show up for much church on Sunday or Saturday in synagogue or at the mosque, put them all together, they‘re overwhelmingly for Bush.  Is that going to be the thing that wins this election for him amidst all these arguments over facts and who said what? 

DREIER:  Well, I think that this question of veracity, which Ron just raised, is an important one.  Yes, there right now may be a problem in the polling that this has shown, but I think that this president has been very forthright and in an unprogrammed way—it wasn‘t programmed.  It was simply stating the fact.

We saw the secretary of defense and the secretary of state yesterday make it very clear that there was a specific gear towards Afghanistan.  As Condi Rice said, the map was not Iraq on the table at Camp David right after September 11.  It was the map of Afghanistan, and I do think that the people in this country do understand that this president did everything that he possibly could leading up to it.

And I will tell you, it is very troubling to see that Richard Clarke has apparently used this commission with a goal of trying to increase the sales of his books, and that really is what is happening.  It‘s become a best seller and it was timed in this way and I think that‘s unfortunate.  So I do think that at the end of the day, that this will end up being the right thing to do and the American people will understand that the president did the right thing. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Ron? 

SUSKIND:  The bottom line is that the president is terrible at doing the thing he needs now to do, which is to stand in an unmanaged way before the American people.  My god, he‘ll never go on “Russert‘ again.  That was a nightmare for him.  And to speak clarity...

DREIER:  Oh, come on. 

SUSKIND:  No, come on, David. 

To speak clarity and truth about why we‘ve done what we‘ve done.  What are the good reasons that underlie action?  It‘s a real dilemma for the White House.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you this.  Of the two targets of Richard Clarke‘s book, one target being, the president wasn‘t alert enough and didn‘t have his apparatus ready to deal with 9/11 before the case and, No.  2, he focused on an old enemy, Iraq, rather than focusing on al Qaeda afterwards, what‘s the most damning charge of the two? 

SUSKIND:  Well, the fact is, they‘re joined together.  I think the Iraq charge is arguably the most damning because it shows where the emphasis was as well as where it wasn‘t, al Qaeda. 

You know, I think that many people in the White House still ask is, where was that why discussion, why Saddam, why now?  When did it happen?  In the first very NSC meeting, it seemed to have been decided that we were going to use irresistible force, including U.S. military ground forces, to sake out Saddam Hussein.  There was discussion in the first few meetings about...

(CROSSTALK)

SUSKIND:  Hold on a second.

There was discussion in the first few meetings about what we do once we capture the country.  Even senior officials of the administration say to themselves, did I miss that discussion?  When did it happen if it‘s not happening in the first NSC meeting?  I think the president needs to answer that. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Congressman Dreier.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You made the point....

DREIER:  Let me just say...

MATTHEWS:  No, I want you to follow up on your point, Congressman.  You made a very good point.  You said that this administration was focused initially after the attack of 9/11 on the appropriate target, al Qaeda, and bringing down the Taliban government.  It was a dramatic strategic decision, not a criminal investigation, nail that government, bring it down, take them apart.

But why did they shift gears and shift directions over to Iraq without catching Mullah Omar, the head other Taliban, without catching Zawahiri, and perhaps most importantly without catching bin Laden?  Why did they finish and say that game was over? 

DREIER:  All you need to do is ask—all you need to do is ask the former DCI, Jim Woolsey, who has made a very clear case over the nexus that exists between Iraq and al Qaeda. 

Now, let me just say this.  Within two weeks

(CROSSTALK)

SUSKIND:  No, there‘s no connection there.  And everybody knows it.

(CROSSTALK)

DREIER:  Ron, I‘m just telling—the director of central intelligence, Jim Woolsey, has made it clear, as have others. 

SUSKIND:  You got your one guy.

DREIER:  Let me finish this point.  No, there are many other people who have done that, Ron.

Let me just say this, Chris.   I think it‘s very important to note that within two weeks of taking the oath of office, President Bush successfully did something that the Clinton administration said was a reason that they could not go after al Qaeda.  And that is, he developed a relationship with General Musharraf. 

You remember Madeleine Albright talked about the fact that Musharraf and the Pakistanis were too closely tied with the Taliban.  And here, President Bush immediately began developing this important alliance with Musharraf to have Pakistan make the decision between the Taliban and al Qaeda and the United States of America. 

MATTHEWS:  That was a great move.  But if you give credibility to that move, which I certainly do, you have to also give credibility to the president of the United States, George W. Bush, when he said that Iraq had nothing whatever to do with 9/11.  He‘s the man speaking. 

DREIER:  And you know what?  We never said that.  We never said that

Saddam Hussein was in command hand control on 9/11.  We just said

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  He said no connection. 

SUSKIND:  No connection.

DREIER:  ... with Iraq and al Qaeda.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  The president said no connection whatever. 

SUSKIND:  There isn‘t any. 

DREIER:  OK. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

DREIER:  But you know what?  We have found that there is a presence of al Qaeda in Iraq.  True? 

MATTHEWS:  Right now. 

DREIER:  Yes.  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s a happy hunting ground right now.  They‘re all going in there now because it‘s an opportunity. 

DREIER:  But we have found that there have been ties there, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

SUSKIND:  The president needs to get up and speak candor and honesty. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, I think the president is right about executive privilege.

DREIER:  And he‘s doing it.

SUSKIND:  No, not now.

MATTHEWS:  I think he‘s right about Musharraf and I think he was right about going after Afghanistan. 

DREIER:  Thank, Chris.  

MATTHEWS:  David is right most of the time. 

Thank you very much, Congressman David Dreier and Ron Suskind, Pulitzer Prize-winning author.

DREIER:  See you, Ron.

MATTHEWS:  Up next, President Bush‘s poll numbers on the war on terrorism are slipping.  “Newsweek”‘s Howard Fineman will be here to report.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

“Newsweek”‘s Howard Fineman is an NBC political analyst. 

OK, analyze.  You‘re a genius at it.  Who is winning this fight between Condi Rice, who is sort of like the chief flak catcher for George Bush, and this guy we never heard of?  I think you said this.  The fastest ballistic missile in history to arrive on center stage, Richard Clarke.

HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT:  Well, there‘s never been a more riveting person...

MATTHEWS:  To come from nowhere.

FINEMAN:  To come from nowhere than Clarke. 

MATTHEWS:  Is he going back there? 

FINEMAN:  Well, potentially.  But I think he‘s won the first round. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

FINEMAN:  This is a many round fight.  And the American public, at least based on the “Newsweek” poll, are a little skeptical of jumping to conclusions.  They basically, in the long picture, the big picture, blame the eight years of Clinton more than right now they blame the eight months of Bush as far as terrorism is concerned. 

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t American history written by people who have come out and broken the omerta, whether it‘s John Dean or it‘s Whittaker Chambers, if you will?

FINEMAN:  Right.  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Or it is David Stockman, who come from the inside and say, I got to tell you what‘s going on here?  And they may not be likable in some instances.  They may be a little narcissistic, but they end up being the ones that told us the truth. 

FINEMAN:  Well, I think his story is very powerful.  And I think many parts of his story are not only uncontradicted, but are spread elsewhere on the record, even by George W. Bush himself, who told Bob Woodward early on after 9/11, “I wasn‘t on point.”

On point, by the way, is a hunting term. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

FINEMAN:  That‘s a dog that is on point, that is putting at the enemy, at the prey.  So Bush himself admitted some of this early on. 

MATTHEWS:  Sure he did in the book.

FINEMAN:  So it was partly Clarke.  And this is always true in Washington.

And it was Clarke stating the obvious, but stating it in public in a forceful way.  They have tried to destroy him in every conceivable way.  He is out for money.  He is a partisan.  He is a bureaucrat who is resentful.  He has a bad tailor.  He is a Democrat.  He is for Kerry. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

FINEMAN:  That doesn‘t take away from the basic notion and the basic accusation that the administration wasn‘t sufficiently urgent about the al Qaeda threat after they came in, in January of 2001. 

MATTHEWS:  Is there a person or a group in the White House that, when confronted with a revolution, think about how to destroy the informer, how to destroy the person, not argue the facts?

Because I look at DiIulio.  I look at of course Joe Wilson, of course Paul O‘Neill.  They‘re all—it is like the old Soviet system.  If you break ranks, you go to the asylum. 

FINEMAN:  You go to the asylum.  And your picture no longer appears on the Kremlin wall. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  You‘ve just been erased.

FINEMAN:  You‘ve just been erased from memory. 

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  Well, look, to be fair...

MATTHEWS:  Is this Karl Rove at the highest level?  Is it the president?

FINEMAN:  To be fair, this is way politics has often operated.  It is the way it operated when Bill Clinton was dealing with Monica Lewinsky?  But this is at an industrial level. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Industrial strength. 

FINEMAN:  Industrial strength.  And this is the way the Bush people act.  You‘re either with them or against them.  They‘ve always been that way, always been that way.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK, when Tim had him on yesterday—Tim Russert had him on, on “Meet the Press.”  And time was asking him about giving the money to charity, which has been an issue up there.  It‘s been put in the air.

FINEMAN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  And he asked him that.  And he said, no, I need this money to protect myself, because I need to have it not for lawyers‘ fees, as much as I need it to pay for my next meal because the word is out at the White House, I will never eat again.  I‘ll never make a dime in this city again. 

FINEMAN:  You won‘t have lunch in this town again. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Is this credible that he actually got word from the White House inner sanctum they‘re out to butcher his ability to make money?

FINEMAN:  I am sure that someone in and around the White House said such a thing.  I‘ve heard them say those kinds of things about other people in other circumstances. 

MATTHEWS:  What, you sleep with the fishes? 

FINEMAN:  Well, it‘s like wait until you see...

MATTHEWS:  You got it.  Look at this.  Look at this.  Look at this. 

Look at this.  Look at this hand movement here.  Look at this hand movement.  I think I‘m watching “The Sopranos” here.

FINEMAN:  Well, wait until you see what we‘re going to do.

No, that‘s the way they have always played it. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Republican

FINEMAN:  But the fact is, he‘s a smart guy whose advice was pretty good over the years.  And there are plenty of corporations out there who will at least have an interest in hiring him.  Then the question will be whether the White House keep a list of the corporations that hire him. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Daniel Ellsberg is another great case.  But this guy was given responsibility by not just Condi Rice, the national security adviser, but the vice president of the United States, the man that Bush—the president relies on most for national security. 

And they say, you‘re in charge after 9/11.  At the moment of greatest

terror for this country in our history, maybe, going back to Pearl Harbor,

they said, we trust you, Richard Clarke, to protect this union, this

republic right now.  And then to go back and say this guy is a nut or a

special pleader or a disgruntled office seeker, that‘s a tough turn

(CROSSTALK)  

FINEMAN:  I agree.  As a matter of fact, one of the most riveting parts of his book, which I read very carefully, is that first chapter where Condi basically says to him, OK, right at 9/11, right on that morning, you‘re in charge. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

FINEMAN:  And by all accounts, his own especially, Clarke did a good job. 

But the reason that people are a little skeptical of totally awarding all the points Clarke here is not because of the White House attack on him.  It‘s because people know there‘s a long history there.  They know that the Clinton administration had eight years. 

MATTHEWS:  Sure.  Eight years to eight months.

FINEMAN:  And that‘s is the political bedrock that Bush has going for him at this point.  It is not the attacks on Clarke, which are really I think hurting the White House, I think hurting the White House.

MATTHEWS:  And the commonsense notion, by the way—and common sense is valuable and valid. 

FINEMAN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Who could have thought up this horrible thing of 9/11 in just the time that Bush was in office?  They had this thing in the works for months and years before.

FINEMAN:  And I think people out in the country have some sense for that. 

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  And, also, people out in the country, from my interviews and the polls show, they are upset that the whole 9/11 Commission has been turned into a political circus. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, that said, let‘s look at the impact of the 9/11 Commission.  Here in poll here, the “Newsweek” poll that you report for, 57 percent approve of the president‘s handling of national security now, as opposed to 65 percent, eight points higher, in February.  Big drop. 

FINEMAN:  Yes. 

My reading of that, though, is it is primarily because of the mess in Iraq.  Most of that time occurs before—no, before Clarke.  As a matter of fact, the number was even higher in January.  It was up to 70 percent.  The president is clearly losing altitude on this topic, the handling of the war in terrorism, but primarily because of the problems in Iraq, I think, not specifically Clarke‘s attacks. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, after our visit to Walter Reed the other day and

watching all these guys suffering from these

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  That was powerful.  That was really powerful. 

MATTHEWS:  It is not a reason to be against war, but it certainly is a way to understand the cost of war.  And I think that is what I was trying to say. 

Howard, thank you.  It is great to have you on, especially alone.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Join us again tomorrow night at 7:00 Eastern for more

HARDBALL.

Right now, it is time for the COUNTDOWN with Keith. 

END   

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